Sandy – We had a short, not-so-good night at the Hotel Eugenia because of noise outside, a lumpy pillow, and a headache (I suspected it was due to the high altitude). We were picked up at 6 AM for the airport and were off to Guayaquil, a coastal town, and then to the Galapagos Islands. I saw lots of islands from the plane before we landed. We landed on Baltra, one of 3 airports in the State of Galapagos, and crossed via ferry to Santa Cruz Island where we were met by two Adventure-Life Voyages guides – I think they were both named Miguel. Baltra is a small island north of Santa Cruz. We boarded a wildly painted bus titled First Class (not) and traversed the entire island north to south to the port of Puerto Ayora. The climate was arid, but as the bus climbed to the highlands it became forested and lush. Down from the highlands to the coast it became more jungle with banana trees and mangrove swamps. Our transfer by an inflatable raft with an outboard motor, called a Zodiac (or Panga), to the Millennium immediately told my senses that the exercise of getting in and out of the Zodiac, over and over, might be the hardest thing I'd need to do during the entire vacation. The Millennium is a great boat. It is a catamaran that hosts 16-passengers, has 8 cabins, and is 25 meters long and 10 meters wide. Lunch was served immediately. We were allowed a short respite and then boarded the Zodiac for a trip to the Charles Darwin Research Center (CDRC). After viewing the exhibits, we went for a walk to observe the animals. First up were the 5 giant land tortoises weighing about 650 lbs each-- massive, lumbering, and intriguing. I'm so very glad I have seen them alive. There are several types of these tortoises nearing extinction, including Lonesome George who is the last of his type and forever at the Center for his protection. The CDRC has a baby tortoise nursery. We were told the young tortoises are kept for 3 years before release. Today I saw marine iguanas, anis, great blue herons, mockingbirds, finches, brown pelicans, land iguanas, a Galapagos mouse, Sally Lightfoot crabs, and a vibrant male yellow warbler with his red crown. The female yellow warblers are almost pea green. Later, we headed back to the Millennium for dinner and a presentation about the predominating currents (Humboldt, Panama and Japan) around the Islands. There are four natural predators in the Galapagos: the hawk, owl, Frigate bird, and snake—and each have their territory. We were ready for rest, but first we wanted to write in our journals. Tomorrow would begin with a bright and early start.
Leif – To the Galapagos. An early morning of introductions to fellow passengers on our cruise led to a bus ride together from the Hotel to the Quito Airport. This unique drive wound through deserted streets and past local runners competing in a street race. The relaxed security at the airport took only seconds to get through. On the other side of security venders sold food and sunglasses. Because we had to leave before breakfast was served at Hotel Eugenia, my grandmother and I opted to purchase breakfast at Le P'tit Cafe. This satisfying breakfast tied us over to a small meal en route to the Galapagos Islands. Our 2-hour flight filled us with anticipation about the trip that lay ahead. At the airport on Baltra we recovered our bags in an exciting state of chaos. A scenic bus ride through arid cactus-strewn desert brought us to a beautiful canal that we crossed by boat. On the opposite bank we boarded another “First Class” bus that brought us through undeveloped beauty intermittently interrupted by depressed regions of impoverished humanity. The town surrounding Puerto Ayora was quiet, relaxed and full of beauty. A scenic walk through this town, after we were introduced to our native tour guide and had lunch, filled us with wonder. We passed a beautiful cemetery, stores filled with everything from hand-crafted baskets to drums, and impressive restaurants and hotels. Our guide, Samuel, showed us around a protected area of native animals in captivity. We stared in awe at giant tortoises, indigenous finches, thriving plant life, crabs, iguanas and baby tortoises. A short raft ride back to the Millennium would begin our expedition. We ate a hearty dinner and then Samuel, our guide, briefed us on the next day's events. He taught us about the “fantastic four” (the 4 main predators in the Galapagos Islands: hawks, owls, frigates and snakes). Then we were informed about essential ocean currents that provide vital nutrients and environments for ocean life to survive. After the learning session and a quick shower, the melodic rocking over the waves lulled me to sleep.