When you decide to visit the Galapagos by land instead of on board of a more typical cruise ship, that doesn’t literally mean you will explore the place on solid ground only. This is an archipelago; coming to an island only and not venturing out to sea would be silly and would naturally give you a very limited vision of what this place is all about.
From Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz, you can book day trips by boat to a variety of islands, such as: Floreana, Bartolome, Seymour, Plazas, San Cristobal or Isabela. You can’t go to all the islands, not only because some are quite far but also because the local rules allow only cruise ships to visit certain places while others are easily reached with a day trip that can be booked at any tour agency in town.
Most agencies with offices along Charles Darwin Avenue offer the same kind of excursions. The majority of day tours combine treks and walks to explore the scenery and wildlife of the island you choose, plus some snorkeling time in the afternoon. Snorkeling or scuba diving trips can be specifically booked too. Most of these trips include a 2 hour boat ride on the way there and another 2 hours on the way back. Departing usually at around 8 or 9AM that doesn’t leave you with an enormous amount of light hours, but it’s still a very rewarding experience as wildlife tends to be plentiful and, honestly, there is not one place in the Galapagos that you can look at and not think is very beautiful.
Getting to Floreana Island
We decided to go to Floreana Island for a day, for a combination of giant tortoise watching, exploring some caves where pirates used to live back in their adventurous days and do some snorkeling too. The boat ride to Floreana was a nightmare… I felt so motion sick that I started to fantasize with my bed back in Dubai. The one in the house we no longer have. As I saw the drops of sweat going down Ashray’s forehead I though I would have to join the 2 Asian girls who had already fed the fishes with their vomit… The sun in Ecuador projects a kind of heat like I have never experienced before. And we used to live in Dubai, where it reaches 50C at times! But this sun gets underneath your skin and makes even your internal organs sweat. It’s extremely intense.
After trying to concentrate in one point and not look around for almost 2 hours, we finally reached Floreana and all unpleasantness went away the moment we were greeted by some playful sea lions. These creatures are unbelievably cute! But no matter how friendly they look like, it’s not advisable to touch them or disturb them. In fact, this morning I read that Shakira was (almost) attacked by a sea lion in South Africa but she also confessed it was her fault as she tried to pet it. On her Facebook page she thanked her brother who ended up “saving her life” and so we will all be able to keep on Waka Waka-ing with her honest hips.
At Floreana’s port, iguanas were also soaking up the sun and getting refreshed with the ocean spray as the water would splash against the rocks. After 1 day in the Galapagos you look at these marine iguanas as you would look at insects in most places. They are everywhere, minding their business and you get easily used to their presence.
A morning in the highlands
Our guide was on a rush to get us in a bus to visit the highlands of this island, where tales about pirates and first settlers were awaiting us. From the port to the van we saw pretty much all the human activity that takes place in this little piece of land. There are less than 150 inhabitants and the vast majority works in a touristic related activity. There is one bus, one restaurant, one small guesthouse, one school… there seems to only be 1 of everything!
In the highlands, there is a protected area where you can spot a large number of giant tortoises. They are not natural to this island as the Floreanean tortoises extinguished about 300 years ago. Instead, they were brought here from other islands in the Galapagos and now live in a protected environment. They are even fed every 2 days and, coincidentally, we visited around lunch time.
When we were observing the tortoises, I started realizing how stupid our tour guide was. No offense, but this guy was a really dumbo.
Me: “Why would you bring the tortoise form another island here if this is not their natural habitat?“
Guide: “For exhibit, ’cause there were none here!“
Me: “OK. But doesn’t that go against the efforts of the natural park? You’re supposed to keep all species in their original place and not disturb them, isn’t it?“
Guide: “But the ones here extinguished more than 300 years ago. There were none here!..“
OK. Thanks for not answering my question…
We walked up to the higher part of the island to visit some caves where pirates used to find shelter when cruising around here. These are the same pirates partially responsible for the extinction of the local tortoises, as apparently those made for some tasty meaty treats! Close by to the caves there is a spring with sweet water which we are told was the reason for pirates to stay around here. And as we look at the water sliding down the rocks, Mr. Guide found a competitor for his lack of mental presence, as an Israeli girl asked “Does this water come from the sea?”. Ashray and I laughed at each other with our eyes and Ashray said in a low voice “well… eventually all water comes from the sea!”.
On these walks we came across some funny looking hanging flowers that apparently make you high from smelling them only. At this stage I am thinking 2 things:
1 – the pirates probably settled here not (only) because of the water but because of these flowers
2 – our guide sure smells these things every time he comes here! (that is, everyday)
The best part of the tour in the highlands was riding down to the coast on top of the truck used for transportation. Not only the view was great (no signs of human activity all around!) but the much needed breeze helped us keep up with the temperatures.
Lunch was served in the one and only restaurant in town. Grilled tuna and rice. Our staple at the Galapagos! Delicious every single time, from the most affordable places we ate at to the fancier ones. The most important ingredient for any recipe is the freshness of ingredients, and so in Galapagos fish is heavenly. I don’t think I’ll be able to taste tuna out of a can with the same feeling ever again.
After lunch, we went for a dip at the Black Sand Beach. This beach is the sea front area of the Wittman’s house – the only guesthouse in town, founded my a German family who were some of the first inhabitants of the island… go figure. Black grainy sands and strong blue waters. Not your typical paradise stereotype but not for that any less paradise like! Fishermen were tying up their boats when we reached. I guess the morning shift was over.
An afternoon out at sea
The last part of our tour included some snorkeling time on a nearby rocky spot. The moment we go in the water, you could already see a ton of little colorful fish, who seemed happy to have us dipping ourselves in their home and welcomed us swimming around as if showing off. And just when this sea dream is taking place, our stupid guide and the other boat crew decided to start moving the motor boat around. After working all these years in the Galapagos, don’t these guys know that if you start moving the boat all the fishes will go away? They moved it once, then again, and then again… and almost chopped my head off!
As I am trying to follow a fishy around I sort of hear someone shouting. You can’t really tell when your ears are under the water, but instinct told me something was wrong. As I lift my head from the water, I saw the boat coming towards me and was less than one meter away. These assholes were about to go all Titanic on me! Thanks to Ashray I realized that and swam away. No need to say, but this team was quite unprofessional.
Between this and Ashray’s snorkeling mask licking water to the inside, we decided that was it and went back to the boat and rest. As we were swimming towards the boat, these guys moved it again! Man… are you gonna stand still already? What could have been a pleasant snorkeling experience turned into a life threatening one. By then, Ashray had swallowed quite some water struggling every time the boat would move and motor waves would be created. But do you think someone cared? No one (from the excursion team) even looked at us at he was lining towards my shoulder the whole trip back.
Some people saw turtles and there was even one girl that went into the water with pants and a shirt (!!!) who claimed to have seen a penguin swimming under the water. Ashray believes she was on LSD. After everyone complimented each other on the species they could spot, we started the boat journey back. Ashray kept his eyes closed the entire time, dealing with the salt water being digested in his stomach with the assistance of the boat’s motion as we went over choppy waters. Meanwhile, I was watching some real life telenovela. Our guide, who didn’t care about anything or anyone, was flirting with this large woman that had come out to him earlier.
Large lady: “Ohh, Sandro, I can’t manage to adjust my snorkeling mask… could you please help me?“, she said as she pouted her boobs as they were almost coming out of her bikini, towards the guide’s face.
Sandro and this Argentinian lady exchanged LOLs the whole time! “Who cares about people being motion sick? I’m gonna get laid“, Sandro must have thought. The lovely couple agreed to have dinner the following day. To keep myself entertained I pictured the whole thing in my heard, until it got dirty and, luckily, we were already reaching solid ground.
Getting to a port when you are feeling sea sick is an indescribable feeling! It’s like getting home after the longest day at work ever.
This tour costed USD 60 and was booked at Ninfa Tours in Charles Darwin Av. It was fun, but make sure you don’t get Sandro as your guide if you want to return with your head still attached to your shoulders!