After a morning of napping in our new hotel in Puerto Ayora (on the island of Santa Cruz) we ventured out to find some food and explore the town. We discovered 3 things quickly: 1) it was an adorable, high-end town with all the amenities one could want (boutique organic coffee, spa, stores that clearly spent a ton on branding consultants) with a lovely harbor 2) our hotel (booked from the dock quickly online) couldn’t have been in a better spot 3) food was super expensive! The latter probably shouldn’t have been a surprise since we are on an island in the middle of the Pacific swarmed by visitors coming off expensive boat trips, but after the cheapness of Quito and reasonable Cuenca/Mindo/Otavalo it was a surprise to see a $17 medium pizza and $20 entrees, $12 (alcoholic) drinks in restaurants on the main drive near the harbor. (Note we also found cheaper places and a grocery store:)
We also started planning what we would do in our new-found time on Santa Cruz. We knew our boat was planning on visiting this island later in its voyage, including a stop at the Charles Darwin Research Center. We figured that would be an informative and easy stop to learn more about (and see more of) the Galapagos tortoises. Seeing blue-footed (not just red-footed!) boobies was something we all wanted to do, too. Luckily we discovered the largest colony of them was on a tiny island just off Santa Cruz. While we would have to journey on the water again, it would only be for about 40 minutes (each way) which was doable. Our guidebook also mentioned a local beach that “rivaled any in South America” which seemed pretty high praise so we added that to our list! We also took this as new-found time to do some schooling, and kids plugged away on Khan Academy and their research projects on Ecuador. (Maybe we will post one later!).
Here are some of the highlights:
Charles Darwin Research Station
This is a classic Galapagos stop and serves as a sanctuary and breeding center for all sorts of endemic tortoises. (Some types are only on some islands!). We accidentally ended up with a private guide, who was helpful (though did show us how good our boat-guide had been in comparison). Some of the more-interesting Tortoise facts I learned: Many tortoises were taken by whaling ships (and similar long-term sailing vessels of that era) as food as the animals barely need to eat or drink for a YEAR! It was a free and self-storing sort of protein for the sailors. Very very easy to keep alive in comparison to a goat or a sheep or such. Tortoises have a sac of oil, and like whales, this was exploited to use as a lighting oil. Quito was lit by tortoise oil for a time.
Isla Mosquera & North Seymour Island
We took a half- day trip to these two islands, manly to see the blue footed boobies on North Seymour. We couldn’t find out that much about Mosquera besides that it was tiny, very tiny and there were some sea lions. Well it turned out to be a gorgeous stop! Basically you were on your own desert island as you picture it — small slip of sand and rocks in a blue bay. Marine iguanas and many sea lions (even young ones!) were around for viewing.
North Seymour did indeed have blue-footed boobies so we could check that off! They are so bizarre looking and do a little dance. We didn’t get see the full dance, but Jack’s upcoming video will have part of it. We also got to see plenty more frigate birds, but this time many had their red pouch (also to attract a mate) out. (This is a seasonal thing, so we are lucky to see it!).
This was, indeed, a stunning beach. Part of the national park, you can only access it by a long, 40+ minute walk (each way). The trek was worth it though.
Though surf was too strong for swimming (though a few crazy souls were) we had fun watching marine iguanas swim, sandpipers run around, and plenty of people taking plenty of pictures for instagram – lol (the nonstop posing was pretty funny). The kids are not yet too old to play in the sand and they designed an elaborate airport.
Overall our trip to the Galapagos was not quite what we had anticipated, but it was still a great success! Looking back, by leaving the boat, we mainly missed seeing whales (well we can do that at home!) and swimming/seeing Galapagos penguins. That is a bummer, but we will (almost certainly) see other penguins on our trip in the wild, so not a complete loss there either. We were all much more relaxed (and healthy) on land so that is really what mattered!
The end of our trip to the Galapagos also ended our travels in Ecuador. A wonderful 5 weeks was had! Off to PERU!