Monday, December 5, 2011

Quito - Galapagos Islands

26 Nov 2011

Quito - Galapagos

5.30 is a great time of the morning - oh yes it is!  Another trip back to the airport awaited us after breakfast, but at least as it was weekend, the traffic was a little less mad.

Quito airport made up for it in spades though!  Check in reminded me of a rock concert just after they open the doors and everyone is trying to get to the front by the stage.  After some searching, we did find there were a number of what might have been queues, but no visual sign about which desk was handling which flight. There were flights to Cuenca, Coca, Guayaquil and Baltra all leaving at roughly the same time.  People for the earliest flight to Cuenca were behind us and they were sometimes helped by officials to get to the front of the scrum.  Suddenly, our 'queue' started moving and we managed to pick up boarding passes and check in our luggage.  By this time it was less than 30 minutes before our flight was due to leave and we still had security to deal with.

Once in the departure lounge, we heard that final boarding for our flight was taking place, so we rushed straight through and out onto the tarmac where there were 2 aircraft.  Luckily, we got the right one, because there was no obvious signs as to which was going where.

Amazingly, the flight almost left on time and we headed to Guayaquil some 30 minutes flying time away.  Guayaquil lies on the Pacific coast and is Ecuadors biggest city.  Once there, we stayed on the aircraft whilst many others left the flight.  The cleaners came on and cleaned around us and then quickly they started boarding more passengers.

New arrivals include a noisy party of South Koreans, but soon after we were airborne for the 2 hour flight out into the Pacific to the Galapagos Islands.  Also on our flight was a huge party from Tupperware who were on a day trip to the Galapagos! I wonder how much they had to sell to get a 'jolly' like that?

We had excellent views of some of the islands as we came in to land, the sea was an electric blue colour.  Once off the aircraft, we were carefully checked in to make sure that we'd payed our National Park Entrance Fee of $100. 

The main airport in the Galapagos is at Baltra, an airfield built by the Americans during the 2nd World War mainly to be able to defend the Panaman Canal not too far to the north.  The island is very flat and the foundations and ruins of the enormous airbase are still easily visible.

Arrivals was just a largish shed (perhaps I'm doing it a disfavour here) and luggage was moved into the shed on tractors and trailers. It was then uncermoniously dumped on the floor and a 'sniffer dog' let loose in amongst the bags.  Food and seeds are forbidden to be imported to the islands, in case it contaminates the ecostructure of the islands.

We boarded a small coach that took us to the channel between Baltra and Santa Cruz Islands.  Here we got off the coach and saw our luggage off a small lorry.  The bags were put on top of the ferry and we all climbed inside.  Once on the island of Santa Cruz, a bus was waiting for us and after loading our luggage, we headed south across the island, climbing all the time.

Giant Land Tortoise

High up on the mountain, we took a short diversion to a farm where we saw in excess of 80 giant land tortoises, we decided that we'd seem larger in the Seychelles,  but it was interesting to see so many.

Hot Giant Land Tortoises - trying to cool down

After an ice-cream, we continued on south, and back downhill, to Puerto Ayora.  This small town is the biggest on the island and has many shops, a few hotels and is where many people, including ourselves, join their small cruise boats.  We jumped into a inflatable dinghy and motored across to the Galapagos Voyager, our home for the next week.  The boat only has eight cabins so there are only ever 16 guests on board.

After a quick look at our cabin, we headed back to shore and went to visit the Charles Darwin Research Centre, whose main purpose is to preserve some of the rarer island tortoises.  Amongst the inmates of the Centre is 'Lonesome George' the only Giant Tortoise from the island of Pinto left on the planet

Back on board, we had a briefing about our programme for the next week and the ships routine was explained.  We were told that we would be sailing overnight between midnight and 3.00 in the morning and would be heading to South Plaza Island.

After an excellent dinner on board, we settled down in our small cabin for our first night aboard.

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