In order to be at the airport in time despite the expected traffic chaos in the morning, we ask the ladies at the reception to order a taxi for 6:30 a.m. and try to get a few extra hours of sleep. Unfortunately we have made the calculation without a group of newcomers who make a ruckus in the middle of the night… Well then, I am not supposed to be quiet when getting up at 6 a.m. then myself .
The arranged cab seems to be more of a friend who is earning some extra money. The taxi costs are 30 USD including the entrance fees to the airport area. The traffic is really bad. On the radio they say it’s especially terrible today because there’s been a landslide and the more elevated outskirts of Quito are partially cut off. But once we leave the city it gets a lot better and we reach the airport Mariscal Sucre with enough time for a nice breakfast. The first thing we do is check in our luggage though. This is a good idea as we get sent a little bit through the airport before we get the obligatory permit A38. We have to first pay the Galapagos tax of 20 USD per person. Mario’s Greek passport leads once again to some confusion. What kind of country is this? I tell to the somewhat puzzled lady that this is a Greek passport. “Ah… that is Europe?” More confusion. I narrow down the geographical location a bit further, then the penny finally drops . Of course, she knows Greece, however she considered the “strange hieroglyphics”, which turn out to be Greek writing, to be Cyrillic. Kind of understandable.
After a successful exchange we continue to the luggage check, because our 10 chickens and the collection of seeds from different cultivated plants are not to be brought to Galapagos, nor is the assortment of tropical fruit and vegetables .
Jokes aside: Find out what you’re not allowed to take along with you, because you’ll always be checked on the way to and also between the islands.
Spoilers: Large toy vans with Stormtrooper crews are allowed, but regularly lead to delays in check-in by amused control personnel.
We get through and our bags get their well-deserved tapes.
Located opposite the nice new airport, we have breakfast in the restaurant centre.
Attention: There doesn’t seem to be a shopping mall. So if you still want something important, like some urgently needed 2000 GB SD cards for the many Galapagos photos you’re anticipating to take… forget it!
On the roof terrace you have a great view of the Cotopaxi, we enjoy our breakfast: A burger for Mario and Bolon de Queso for me. I love breakfast in South America. I never have to worry about what I can order rather than the obligatory bread in Germany. The Bolon is a ball consisting of a cooking banana and cheese, with a fried egg.
We set off with a full stomach.
Santa Cruz (Galapagos) –
The airport on Baltra is minuscule in size and crowded with tourists. Arriving tourists are first asked to pay an 100 USD Entrance fee per person combined with a passport check. Most Galapagos tourists are equipped with large bills especially for this purpose… but that would be just too easy. We on the other hand make our way to the counter armed with our nicely rolled-up 20 USD bills… Well, the unrolling takes a while, but we try to hurry. While I roll out the money, the couple standing behind is allowed to pay simultaneously. With ordinary 100 USD notes… Overachievers!
After successfully unrolling all the bills, I hand the waiting lady 10 x 20 USD banknotes and wait for our passports to be returned. But wait a minute! From the corner of my eye I see that the second control girl is about to hand over the Greek passport to the young man behind us and I want to intervene. Just what we needed right now: Swapped passports! However, the control fairy’s insight seems to be absent. Even the gentleman who is accepting the passport seems confused… about me, not about the passport. As it turns out, the apparently only other Greek who probably is visiting the Galapagos Islands at this time had joined the queue behind us . Thus, I take our passports with quite the red face and somehow try to explain that “you don’t encounter that many Greek passports on journeys” . During a short chat in Greek it turns out that the couple behind us are Greek/Swiss.
The luggage already checked before departure is checked again… maybe a very small budgie or a pineapple has hidden in the suitcase after all… if so, please dispose of all your pets in the container provided at this point if possible. Otherwise there will be horrendous penalties. Not as high as for driving over a turtle but still not cheap .
There are shuttle buses waiting outside to take us to the ferry across the narrow strait between Baltra and Santa Cruz. The ferry costs 1 USD, the bus on the other side 2 USD. The fact that there are plenty of buses for 2 USD that you can easily get on and drive to the port of Puerto Ayora doesn’t stop the waiting taxi drivers from offering taxis for 15 USD…well, maybe taking a bus isn’t the vehicle of choice for every Galapagos tourist.
On the way to Puerto Ayora we can have our first look at the island’s landscape. It reminds us of a prairie. Herbaceous plants, cactus-like undergrowth. I had told Mario that there are no palm trees, but he is still amazed by the vegetation though he still feels a little betrayed by the missing palm trees .
We get off at the harbour and continue to our hotel “Morning Glory”. About 15 minutes walk up the coastal promenade. Passing the fish market where the first pelicans already greet us. We enter the hotel through a souvenir shop with hand-painted T-shirts. At the back there is a large courtyard with several bungalows with hammocks in front. In triumph Mario points upwards. PALMS. Some of these trees grow in our courtyard… so I admit that I was wrong and Mario is pleased about the tropical flair…
With local beer (Endemica) and a Cola-Light we decide to relax in the hammocks.
But since we only have 10 days on the islands and time is precious, we continue our search for diving bases. We get a tip from Volunteer/Workaway girl Amber, who works in the hotel, and set off towards the Darwin station, where a good dive center should be located. It is still closed though, so instead we go to the playa de la estacion and lie down under the mangroves. Here you can also have a nice swim and we decide to go into the water armed with our masks and snorkels.
On the way back the dive center is now open, but unfortunately everything is full for tomorrow. We will have to wait till Sunday to scuba at the Gordon Rocks. We keep on looking for another dive base. The next one will also have some free spaces in a few days though… What do we do now?
Finally, at the end of the first day, our rather tedious planning results in the following itinerary: With Academy Bay we make a trip to Gordon Rocks for the 28th of May (160 USD/Person). Since we also want to dive at Kicker Rock near San Cristobal, we let Academy Bay recommend us the base “Wreckbay” and arrange a trip for the 26th by phone (also 160 USD/Person). We send our brevets as photos in advance by e-mail. Before that, so we decide, we want to visit Isabela and decide to start right away the next day. We buy the speedboat ticket early in the evening, which is a good idea, at least in the high season. (30 USD One way and 55 USD Two way).
Totally beaten, we just want to eat dinner and then go to bed now. In the Avenida Charles Binford there are the kioskos. The food there is quite good and cheaper than at the beach. There is also a cocktail kiosko with a Happy Hour 2 for 1 (7 USD). The Happy Hour concept seems to be quite popular on the islands. Mostly it is 10 USD for 2 cocktails though.
We pack our stuff for Isla Isabela in the daypacks before we go to sleep. We will leave the travel backpacks in the hotel.