Island Hopping in the Galápagos

Hi all! As many of you might have figured out by now, I spent the past week in the Galápagos Islands as an independent trip during my time in South America. Before I begin my long story about my journey to and through the Galápagos Islands, I would like to just say that to be able to do this was something that I wouldn’t have been able to do without the generous scholarship that the Study Abroad offices at Wake Forest provided me for the Spring 2015 semester. This scholarship has covered pretty much every cost that I’ve encountered in going abroad, including flights to all the places that I needed to get to, tuition for the semester, food, clothing, and all other small things. In any other situation or placement in the world besides South America, I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go to the Galápagos, especially since flights from the U.S are twice what I paid for a flight from Chile. For all of this, I am incredibly grateful.

And now to diverge into the actual trip: I spent a good amount of time writing about my trip and exactly what I did. The original draft that I had of my adventuring summed up to over 5,000 words by the time I had reached to talking about my last day in the Galápagos, which would have been quite a lengthy story for all you readers. I’m not going to spend too much time talking about everything I did, but I will cover the highlights of the trip. If you’d like to hear more about the trip, you’re more than welcome to contact me in regards to it!

The trip started with flights from Santiago to Lima, and then to Quito, and then finally to Baltra Island within the Galápagos. I spent my first day (Tuesday) in the Galápagos hanging around Puerto Ayora of Santa Cruz Island waiting for the boat to Isabela Island. During this time, I explored the unfortunately very touristy town, and found my way to the Charles Darwin Research Center, where I saw many endemic animals, including the giant tortoises of the islands. In the afternoon, a $30 boat ride took me 2 hours across the Pacific to Isabela Island, where I stayed in a hostel in the town of Puerto Villamil for the night due to some pretty bad sea sickness.

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First sights traversing between islands Baltra and Santa Cruz
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Lobo spotting on Santa Cruz!
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At a certain pier, it was pretty common to see Lizards…
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…As well as Iguanas, basking in the daylight (and rain).
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Stumbled across the path to the Charles Darwin Research Center, which was not open upon my arrival (not pictured).
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The path really just looked like a pleasant beach walkway.
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The CDRC did have breeding centers for certain species of iguanas such as this one.
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Darwin’s finches!
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There was also a breeding center for this giant tortoises.
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The iguanas were HUGE. Another thing is, often when they were just lying in the sun, they would be like this or in other odd positions that gave them a look of being dead… but no worries! Iguanas just sleep in funny positions.
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A quiet place in Purto Ayora, away from the bustling tourism.

My second day (Wednesday) consisted of running around with my things to catch a last minute trekking tour to Volcan Sierra Negra, a hike of 16 km (about 10 miles) around the second largest caldera in the world and also exploring its hardened lava field from its last explosion in 2005. It was the only tour I went on during my time in the Galápagos. Unfortunately, the visibility of the caldera wasn’t very extensive because of the weather (rain + hot rocks = really bad steam). After the tour, I came back to the hostel and changed into swim gear and spent some time down at Playa Puerto Villamil for the evening. At this playa, I met whom I now call my Peruvian parents, who generously let me dine with them for the evening. We exchanged contact info in case I have the opportunity to travel to Lima in the future.

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Finally made it to Volcan Sierra Negra, with the second largest Caldera in the world!
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A nice picture with the foggy caldera, taken by some lovely Brits.
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Things sort of cleared up after an hour or so into the hike (but not really).
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Apparently, we wouldn’t have been able to see the other side anyway because it’s so massive.
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Looking down onto the Isabela landscape. The small green hump in the mid-ground is another volcano.
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Some of the lush greens to be found on Isabela.
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Part of the volcano where the lava spilled over the caldera 10ish years ago. This is a lava bubble that burst. You can’t see into it too well, but it houses the beginnings of vegetation.
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The apocalyptic lava field of Sierra Negra.
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It has some intense colors of rock.
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Pano of the ground below the volcano and the lava field, showing the diversity of the ecosystems on Isabela.
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Such intense red!
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Graffiti back in Puerto Villamil of Isabela.
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Full wall of turtle graffiti.
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Pano of Playa Puerto Villamil, with my Peruvian mum.

The third day of the trip (Thursday) was merely a day of transit between islands. At 5h30 in the morning, I took a boat back to Santa Cruz to catch another boat later in the day to San Cristobal, where I would be flying out of later in the week. I passed the time between boat rides observing the Puerto Ayora fish market (bustling with sea birds and sea lions – lobos in Spanish), and devouring the best hamburgesa completo that I’ve ever had (loaded with cheese, egg, tomato, and lettuce). I made sure to take a sea sickness pill before taking the boat to San Cristobal; it definitely helped my food stay down and kept me conscious during the boat ride. Upon arriving in the town of Puerto Baquerizo of San Cristobal, it was pouring, and I didn’t have much of an opportunity to get to the ideal camping spot, so I stayed at a cheap (and pretty terrible) hostel. I ventured out in the rain and went swimming with lobos at Playa Mann and came back to a room with lights that no longer functioned, and was moved to another smelly room with bed bugs. I decided after it took an hour for this change to happen that I probably wasn’t going to stay there ever again. I indeed got what I paid for.

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Back on Puerto Ayora — check out those crabs! You might not get the sense of their size from this pic, but they were a bit bigger than the average hand size.
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Puerto Ayora on a cloudy day.
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Iguana spotting!
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Frigate birds, or as they’re called in Spanish, Tijeretas.
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Part of the port.
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Lobo waiting for the catch of the day to accidentally fall from the table; at the Fish Market.
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Pelicans swarmed the market in efforts to get a taste of the catch of the day.
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In transit between Santa Cruz and San Cristobal, we encountered Isla Santa Fe, an uninhabited island.

On the fourth day (Friday), I packed my things up and found another hostel, because the forecast predicted rain and thunderstorms for the rest of the week. This second hostel in Puerto Baquerizo was a real treasure, with helpful hosts who suggested the best places to see on the island for independent travelers. After checking in, I left with my daypack for the short hike to Cerro Tijeretas, a hill set above a little cove where one can observe the many seabirds of the island. The cove below the hill is a place where many snorkel goes come to, as the visibility in the water is very clear and there are many marine animals to observe, including lobos, boobies (the birds), and several species of fish. At the top of Cerro Tijeretas, I found a smaller trail leading through the wilderness of the island which was supposed to take me to Playa Baquerizo. On this trail, I encountered a lot of mud, rock hopping, swamps, and jungle ecology, and got lost a few times as the trail was poorly marked and hard to differentiate from the surrounding nature. Nevertheless, I made it to some big beach (which I presume was Playa Baquerizo) and went for a swim before returning to the port through the equatorial jungle. I grabbed a decent meal in town and returned to the hostel for what was supposed to be the sunset but was actually a thunder storm. The weather on San Cristobal was pretty poor the whole time I was there except for the day I flew out, unfortunately.

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Trek into the jungle of cacti and eventually equatorial forests.
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A mirador point on the more constructed part of the trail to Cerro Tijeretas (aka, the non trekkers trail).
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Looking out to the north of San Cristobal.
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Las Tijeretas — a cover below Cerro Tijeretas that is commonly used by snorkel goers because of the incredibly visibility in the water.
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A Darwin statue included his many friends, set on the way to Cerro Tijeretas.
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Lobos rule the world, in San Cristobal.
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Trail leading up to the summit of Cerro Tijeretas, with miradors along the way.
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The cove from the top of the cerro, round 1.
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The probably not so official trail leading to Playa Baquerizo, and also winding through the equatorial jungle. Can you find the trail according to the marker? I can’t.
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Playa Baquerizo iguana spotting.
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Pano of Playa Baquerizo!
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A fabulous shell left on the playa. People are not allowed to take shells from the islands, so anything found is left for others to view!
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Coming back from the playa — that trail though.
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Looking at the snorkeling dock from the other side of Cerro Tijeretas.
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Baby lobo basking on the rocks.
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Tijeretas basking in the trees of the cerro, just above the cove (round 2 of miradors, coming back from Playa Baquerizo).
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The cove, also round 2.
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Selfie with the incredible landscape! Too bad my fat head is in the way.

My fifth day (Saturday) consisted of hiking to La Loberia in the south (which I don’t have any pictures of unfortunately as it was raining pretty hard) and visiting the Center of Interpretation just outside of town. The Interpretation Center was very informative about the islands; it gave information about the geological, ecological and human history of the islands as well as the present day conditions under which islanders are living. Fun fact number 1: Puerto Villamil was the first successfully founded colony in the Galápagos, founded in 1893. Fun fact number 2: 0% of the energy used in the Galápagos is based on fossil fuels. Fun fact number 3: most specimen of the Galápagos are endemic species, meaning that they can be found nowhere else in the world. Enough fun facts, back to the story – I ended up back at the cover below Cerro Tijeretas to observe the blue-footed boobies in hunting action, and make friends with more of the island lobos. I eventually found my way to Playa Punta Carola and then took another jungle trail back to town, where I got dinner. I then watched the sunset at Punta Carola with some Ecuadorean cerveza, and called it a pretty early night around 21h00.

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Road to La Loberia!
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Puerto Baquerizo.
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Hey guys, UNC wins this round :/
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The center of interpretation, giving history of the islands’ geology, ecology, people and present day living.
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There are a lot of islands, 19 to be exact.
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Darwin’s route through the islands.
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Back on the man-made trail again, heading to Las Tijeretas for swimming and animals watching.
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It really was a nicely made trail.
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One of the many lizards to be found scurrying beneath your feet as you walked the islands.
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San Cristobal swampland, very similar to the unofficial trail to Playa Baquerizo the day before.
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Less rain makes for better pictures! Las Tijeretas pano.
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Even on the trail going up, it was hard to avoid lobos lounging about.
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Punta Carola panorama, just off the Centro de Interpretacion sendero.
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This is the famous blue footed boobie, with it’s spectacular blue feet. It’s quite the silly looking bird in person, though it wasn’t easy to get a decent photo of this beast.
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Lookout point on Punta Carola, pano 2.
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I was brave enough to take the jungle trail of puddles and mud back into town from the beach.
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Pano looking onto Puerto Baquerizo and the bay area.
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The water was incredibly blue! It was turquoise, really.
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Another new perspectives panorama of the port and sky.
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Crab spotting from my sitting post.
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The only sunset I actually saw on the islands (at Punta Carola) — wasn’t much of a sunset, but still lovely.

Day number 6 was the day that I flew out of the Galápagos and into Guayaquil, Ecuador the mainland. It was pretty uneventful until I arrived at my hostel/hotel in Guayaquil for my 17 hour layover between flights. Upon arriving at the hostel/hotel, the family running it invited me to go on a tour of the city with another woman from Peru for $5 (the family was very enthusiastic about Guayaquil and felt that we should get to see it). So I ended up touring the city for the evening, and got to know the father of the host family and the Peruvian woman pretty well. I liked Guayaquil a lot from what I saw, though I didn’t spend enough time in the city to actually get a good feel for it. The next day, upon leaving, the father of the hostel told me that if I even returned to Guayaquil, I would definitely have a place to stay with them. So not only did I find Peruvian parents on this trip, but I also found Ecuadoran parents!

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Back in Puerto Baquerizo; lobos rule the town, like I said.
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Sure is a cutesy port town, lacking the obnoxious touristic flamboyancy of Puerto Ayora.
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Baby lobo snoozing in the bay.
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Some of these lobos were pretty big — this guy in the midst of the photo was probably twice my size.
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Lobo territory.
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Flying into Guayaquil, Ecuador, the landscape was incredible.
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Very different from Chile and Argentina.
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Guayaquil Parque Seminario, including the biggest Catholic church of the city.
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Night pano of Parque Seminario.
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It can’t be seen with this photo, but this is the area of joining of the Duale and Guayas rivers in Guayaquil.
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Looking downstream upon the lit up city.
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Cerro Santa Ana of Guayaquil.
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Some of the works of the artisan shops in the Santa Ana neighborhood.
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At one of the artisan shops, we found the artist in the midst of his work. It was incredibly to watch the making of this painting.
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The above artist’s shop containing all of his paintings.
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Looking up the walkway of Cerro Santa Ana.
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And looking down Cerro Santa Ana.
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My Ecuadorian padre took this one for me.

It was a great time exploring the larger of the Galápagos islands, though I regret not seeing some of the smaller ones. Most of the activities of the islands required dropping a lot of money to do them. Since I was trying to spend as little money as possible (I still ended up spending a lot of money because it’s an expensive place), I didn’t do a lot of these activities, and I didn’t eat out a lot. My diet was pretty poor, consisting mainly of bread and bananas because they were really cheap in the islands (8 bananas for $1). The last night though, I decided to let myself eat out at one of the average restaurants and I ended up dropping $20 on a meal, which is considered normal for the Galápagos. Nevertheless, it was a really awesome meal, of a chicken crepe with mushroom sauce.

I also regret not staying longer in the Galápagos, especially because Monday the 25th (a day after I left), Volcan Wolf on Isabela erupted for the first time in 33 years. This would have been incredible to see; how many times do you go to the Galápagos in a lifetime… how many times do you get to see a volcano erupt in the Galápagos?

I really enjoyed the fact that within the Galápagos, I met people from everywhere in the world, including Japan, Australia, Germany, Ecuador, Peru, New Zealand, and England but not including people from the United States. I met a German couple on the last full day of my visit who said they had seen a bunch of people from the U.S, but they were all on a huge luxurious cruise ship (stereotypically so). This explains the lack of U.S people on the islands, avoiding the areas that didn’t speak English. Basically everyone I met I spoke Spanish with because it was the language of the islands. Actually, mostly all encounters except one or two with some Aussies and Germans were conducted in Spanish, including those on the Ecuadorean mainland. That was something I really enjoyed, especially because Ecuadorean Spanish is very clearly spoken (much more so than Chilean Spanish).

I’m not sure how much traveling I’m going to be able to do in my last 5 or 6 weeks in Chile, as the Galápagos did indeed break my bank account (I dare not say the amount of money that was used). I’m guessing the rest of my trips will be to places in Chile; these is one class trip coming up to San Pedro Atacama in the north of Chile which takes place in the second week of June. If I have the money, I’d like to try to get to Parque Nacional Pan de Azucar, but we shall see!

Until the next adventure,

Brennie

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