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Galapagoes
Galoping Galapagos

(Jason Elliott)
Rise and shine in Quito, use the bathroom in a normal fashion for what, unbeknownst to us, is the last time until we get back, and head out to the airport where our Quito guide points us in the right direction, and off we go to the AirGal gate. I’ve never heard of AirGal before (but I did have a buddy who had an airgal, it was a lonely period of his life, and we’ve chosen not to talk about it), but the airline gave me my first taste of the banana chips that became my obsession during our stay in Ecuador. When I’ve had dried bananas in the past, they’ve always been unbearably sweet, but these were crisp and salty and magical.

Then we landed in San Cristobal, Galapagos, Ecuador and felt like we were in another world. We have this rule where airports don’t count when talking about where you’ve been, so Sander made a beeline for a tuft of land and stuck his foot on it. It was “official” we were in the Galapagos.

Our guide, Filipe, met us on the plane. And by “one the plane” I mean, on the actual plane. He was flying with us, and tracked us down, and went over things while we were in the air. Now that was a nice touch (and that should get me to my daily recommended use of italics for the day). So Filipe sees us through the landing line, where they ask us questions, give us official looking paper (which I lost), took official looking paper, and then a nurse asked if we were feeling ill. Everywhere you go in the Galapagos, you see signs about the flu-the whole island is like your grandma about washing your hands and warning you about illness, which I found odd considering you cannot flush your toilet paper after you…drop the kids off at the lagoon if you get my drift. I asked Philipe if the little sign in the bathroom that says to throw away your used tp is real or a prank on the tourists (I felt it was fair question as it had to do with nature calling). He said, “Yes, they collect it and burn it.” So I spent the rest of my trip in this island paradise trying not to think about giant piles of burning tp and breathing burnt tp residue. Anyway, for a place as freaked out about the flu as Galapagos, you’d think they’d have state of the art sanitation, especially given the relatively few locals that live there.

Anyway, we arrive at our hotel, take a few minutes to get organized, and head off for the nature center/hike/snorkel. It was a nice walk along a volcanic trail to Darwin Bay (the bay where Darwin landed in the G-I’m going to go ahead and call it “the G.” The Galapagos could use some ‘tude), up some (a lot) of steps to see the frigate birds, over to the Darwin Statue, and then to the beach for a snorkel.

The beach is lousy with Sea Lions. It looks like the Jersey Shore on the 4th of July. We’re walking among them looking for a place to put our stuff and one charges me, which is sort of funny because they don’t move real well on land, it’s a sort of undulating waddle, again think tourist on the Jersey Shore. We find a place over by a tree to drop our stuff, put our snorkel gear on, and get into the water and begin to snorkel. And there’s just not much to see. I mean, there are some fish, but not a lot, and there’s not much coral to see, then Filpe goes zipping by. Right as I’m thinking, “Man, that guys fast” I see that it’s not Filipe, it’s a sea lion! There’s an actual sea lion swimming within two feet of me. Then not one, but two, then three start darting around, whipping up, and turning away on a dime. They come up slowly, then all you see is bubbles and fur. Before we started, Filpe said that they would come up close, and that’s ok, but you cannot touch them. He felt it “breaks the barrier” and that once you touch them, they feel like they can touch you, and “that’s not so good.” So Sander and I are surrounded by sea lions rushing up to us, and pulling up/down/sideways at the last second. I’m going to be honest, it’s very unnerving. They can turn away faster than anything on land. It would be like running full speed at a wall, just as fast as you can run, then turning away one inch before you hit it. You couldn’t do it. Your legs would give and the momentum would carry you, but sea lions, do it like you or I would go skipping (not that I ever, under any circumstance, skip). You just can’t imagine it. Every time I thought, “Uh oh, this one’s gonna ram me” it turned away. Better yet, it’s like when that huge Labrador puppy runs at you full tilt, and tries to turn away at the last second but plows into you and you both go flailing in a tumble of arms, legs and fur, well the sea lion can pull the move off. So by this time, my boy and I are playing with a sea lion and its boy. We’re blowing bubbles at each other, doing twists and twirls, coming up and jumping out of the water, and having a blast. Then the mother starts slowing down, and following my flippers. Just easing up to them, this time, slowly pulling away, then coming back to the flippers, and I know what’s going on. She’s going to nibble my flipper. I’m not sure what to do with this, because I wasn’t told what would happen if the sea lion breaks the barrier. I’m not so much scared as very…aware. This thing absolutely pwns me in the water, and sure nibbling my flipper is ok, but what if it wants to nibble me. So sure enough it closes on my flippers, looks me dead in the eye, and gently tugs on one, then turns and zips off. Not sure what happened, but I didn’t see that one again. Maybe it got in trouble with his Human Swim Encounter Galapagos Guide or something.

As dusk fell, we decided to get out of the water and head back. So we walked home, had a great dinner, and Sander and I talked in our room for a few hours before we went to sleep. We spent a lot of time talking about sea lions, blue footed boobies, frigates and what we hoped to see on the rest of the trip. A great start to a great trip.

One final world on sea lions. Over the course of the trip, they became my favorite animal. First off, they’re misnamed. They should be called Sea Labs because they’re more like giant Labrador puppies than lions. All they do is play, well, play and try to get others to play with them. No matter what time you go out at night, you can find a few sea lions playing in the water with each other. Biting, tumbling, swimming, splashing and barking at each other. You can also see them annoying the snot out of the older ones. They will sleep on each other’s heads, crawl over the top of others when there’s a perfectly good swath of beach to use, bark right in the ears of sleeping sea lions, anything to get them to play. This is why they sleep all day. A sea lion colony is the noisiest, most uncomfortable, hassle zone on earth. Not one of them gets a good night sleep. But in the water? In the water they’re the only creatures who use the ocean like a playground and not a business. They explore, they bump pelicans from below, they hassle sharks, they toy with whatever they find, and they swim like you imagine you would if you were granted the “swim” superpower. In short, sea lions have fun. Don’t get me wrong, as fun as they are to watch, they have got to be the most annoying thing in the sea to the other ocean denizens. It’s just that they were blessed with abilities like no other, and they revel in it. I mean, they make dolphins look slow and stoic. I just fell in love with them.

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