I arrived in Quito in the early afternoon prepared to be a solo traveler for a week, and decided to stay in the Old Town this time. Old Town was much more beautiful than New Town with its sixteenth-century colonial architecture. I only had the night in Quito as I had to catch a 9:30 am flight to Santa Cruz Island, but was lucky enough to have amazing views overlooking the city from the hostel for the night.
Fortunately, I arrived to the airport fairly early that morning as I ran into a bit of a confusion once there. The Galapagos Islands has their own screening procedures to make sure nothing exotic gets imported onto the islands. I accidently bypassed the Galapagos security checkpoint and just checked into my flight as I normally would. While waiting at the gate, I noticed all other passengers had a piece of paper, similar to an immigration form when crossing a border that I seemed to have bypassed. With my broken Spanish I made my way back to security, had to pay the $10 transit card fee, forego the Galapagos security as my bag had already been checked in (thankfully they didn’t ask many questions), ran back through security and made my flight with 10 minutes to spare.
I arrived in Puerto Ayora around 11 am, where I stepped aboard Yacht Darwin, my home for the next 5 days. There were 16 of us in total, 2 people to each room. Everyone seemed to be a couple except for myself, my new roomie, Noemie, and two other girls onboard. Apparently, the Galapagos is a wildly acceptable couples spot, as well as honeymoon destination seeing as how two of the couples on our boat were on their honeymoon! After all of us were settled into our rooms, we had lunch on the boat and were headed to our first destination, Las Bachas. Las Bachas was a white sand beach, home to marine iguanas and flamingos in the lagoon. We stayed on land for about an hour, went swimming in the water, then back on board for crew introductions. Our crew consisted of 6 people: the captain, the cook, the bartender, 1st mate, and two deck mates, as well as our guide, Joselyn. The captain was hilarious and always called us his amigos!
After introductions and our welcome cocktail, we had dinner and set sail for our next island, South Plazas. South Plazas is home to a large sea-lion colony, although sea lions can be found on pretty much every Galapagos Island. We walked the 1km trail on the island, observing the birdlife around the cliffs. Then it was back on board to sail to our next destination, Santa Fe Island. Santa Fe Island is home to numerous land iguanas that lay covering the trail. The Island is also known for its 10M-high Opuntia Cacti. After walking around Santa Fe for about an hour in the hot sun, I was ready to get in the water! Back on board, I rushed to put my bathing suit on and snorkel. Noemie and I stuck together as we snorkeled around Santa Fe Island. It was incredible, we saw eagle rays, sting rays, sea turtles, golden rays, tons of brightly colored fish, and much more. Of course I was the last person back on board as I didn’t want snorkel time to come to an end. After a much needed shower, we all met in the common area for our briefing. Every night around 6 pm we would have a briefing with our guide who would explain what we should expect for the next day’s activities. Espanola Island was up next and we sailed there during the night, but man was it a tough ride. Most people weren’t able to sleep and some even got sea sick. Planning ahead, I had bought a few sea sickness pills at the pharmacy before the cruise so I was more fortunate than others.
The next day at Espanola, we got to snorkel first before going on the island. Our snorkel spot was at Gardner Islet. At first I was a bit disappointed as the visibility wasn’t too clear and there wasn’t much sea life, but near the end, numerous sea lions joined us and nearly 10 or so were swimming all around us. It was pure entertainment as I would dive down and spin and a sea lion would follow my each step. It was incredible and so much fun to witness the sea lions having zero hesitation getting up close and personal with us swimmers. Once again, I did not want to leave (the sea lions didn’t want us to leave either) and was the last person to get on the boat. I think the one thing I could change about the Galapagos cruises if I could, would be allowing more snorkel time!
Espanola Island is one of the most beautiful islands in the archipelago and is the sole place in the Galapagos with a colony of waved albatrosses. As the albatrosses start migrating back to the island in April, I was lucky enough to see many of them as they were returning home. They are the largest birds living on the Galapagos Islands, but the smallest of the albatross family. Albatrosses are one of the birds that mate for life and usually do so by a funny little dance. I thoroughly enjoyed relaxing on this island watching the albatross fly high above us. Once back on board, we all lounged on the deck and watched the sunset before we heading back inside for our briefing and dinner. I must admit, the food on the boat was probably the best I had experienced in all of South America as all meals turned out to be delicious and I even got myself to try (and enjoyed!) the fish dishes they prepared.
Floreana was the last island we would visit before returning back to Santa Cruz. It was the first island to be populated due to its freshwater supply and is home to Post Office Bay. There is a tradition at Post Office Bay and it basically consists of a traveler leaving a postcard at the Post Office and having another fellow traveler that visits the same place pick up that postcard and hand deliver it upon returning home. I picked up two: one postcard in Laguna Niguel and the other in Tustin, both of which I plan to deliver when returning home in August. Sidenote: Mom and Dad, don’t be surprised if a stranger knocks on your door with a postcard from me!
After leaving and taking postcards, we sailed on to Devil’s Crown, a half-submerged volcanic cone where we would snorkel. On our way into Devil’s Crown, we saw two hammerhead sharks below us. I wanted to dive down to get a closer look, but they were really deep and I wouldn’t have been able to get a close look at their faces. Once inside Devil’s Crown we saw all sorts of fish, starfish, balloon fish, octopus, and much more and then on the outside of Devil’s Crown we saw white-tip reef sharks. We were back on board for lunch and to sail to the other side of the island, Cormorant Point. At Cormorant Point I was able to see blue-footed boobies really up close. On the white sand beach in Cormorant Point there are tons of sting rays. We all went into the water as our guide told us that you can feel the bottom of the sting rays on your feet if you stand really still. As the water went out, we all stood on the sand and waited for the water to come back up, but this time with the sting rays. Unfortunately or maybe not so unfortunate, no sting ray got close enough to me.
Afterwards, we got back on board for our last night on the boat. I was really going to miss my yacht family. We sailed back to Santa Cruz Island where we would depart the cruise. I enjoyed the cruise and it was a really good way to see as much island life as possible, but was ready to get off the boat after our 5 day journey. Personally, I would have preferred more time in the water and probably would have more so enjoyed staying on the islands and just doing day trips since I’m more of a water animal person than a land one. Overall, I really am glad to have gotten the cruise experience, met and spent time with the people on the boat as well as enjoyed the company of my roommate who was awesome and sincere!
After docking in Puerto Ayora and for our final tour, we headed to the Charles Darwin Research Station where many giant tortoises live including Super Diego. Super Diego is a turtle originally from San Diego, who was sent to the Galapagos for breeding purposes. Super Diego was so popular amongst the ladies that after he starting mating with the females other fellow male turtles followed in his footsteps. He’s named Super Diego because he is the father of over 2,000 turtles. Sounds like they really put him to work!
As our cruise was coming to an end, we said our good-byes and parted ways. I decided to stay on Santa Cruz Island for a couple of days to go diving. Noemie was also staying on Santa Cruz so it was nice to still have a buddy. We dropped our stuff off at the hostel and headed to Tortuga Bay, a 45 minute walk from town. Tortuga Bay is a beautiful beach, where marine turtles come to lay their eggs. We rented snorkel gear to snorkel near the estuaries, but unfortunately didn’t see much. There were, however, baby reef sharks swimming in the water near the estuaries. Noemie and I had a lot of fun swimming with them and they approached us really close as we snorkeled. The beach closed at 5pm, so we headed back to town around then. We made plans to meet up for dinner as I needed to walk around and try to find a dive company to go diving with the next day. We found a cheap place for dinner ($4.50), which seemed pretty good for the Galapagos. I had to call it an early night since I was going diving the next day and needed my energy. I said good-bye to my roomie of 5 days who I had become close to as we shared close quarters on the cruise and am looking forward to seeing her again in the not so distant future.
The next morning, I woke up around 7 am to head North Seymour, where I would dive at two different spots. For some reason, I always get a bit nervous right before I am about to submerge under water and this time was no different. Sadly, I had to make the dive master wait for me as I calmed myself down. Once under water I was totally relaxed and ready to see what life under the Galapagos waters had to offer. I saw white-tip reef sharks, Galapagos sharks, tons of schools of fish, and sea turtles. By the far the coolest animal I saw diving on this trip was a manta ray. I had never seen one before and it was so close to me it was surreal. They are such beautiful moving creatures. We saw one hammerhead shark as well though I unfortunately did not get a great look as it was too far away. We headed back from diving around 1 pm, lunch was included but I was trying to catch the 2 pm ferry over to San Cristobal so I had to skip out on it. I made the ferry, but realized after that I had ended up paying more for the ticket than required – one disadvantage to being a tourist.
I arrived in San Cristobal around 4 p.m. and immediately after getting off the boat, a man originally from New York offered me a room with my own kitchen and a view of the bay. It was a pretty good price so I took it, although it made it harder to meet people than it would have been in a hostel. I dropped off my bags and then headed to a coffee shop to relax and sit by the water. I met a guy there who was stopping in San Cristobal on a cruise trip. I ended up having dinner with him, his friends, and his guide from the cruise. The next morning I booked a dive trip for the following day to Leon Dormido and Kicker Rock, where hammerhead sharks are supposed to be abundant. For the rest of the day I would explore the island. I walked to Cerro Tijeretas (Frigatebird Hill) to observe the Frigatebirds in action. Then I decided I wanted to snorkel a bit, so I walked back to town to rent some snorkel gear. On the way there, I met an Ecuadorian pilot who had the day off and he decided he wanted to accompany me snorkeling. He rented some gear as well, and although I wasn’t sure about his company, he ended up joining me anyway. He was actually very nice, but didn’t speak English so needless to say, our conversation was limited. We went snorkeling at two different spots, Playa Cabo de Horno and a bay by Frigatebird Hill. The snorkeling was pretty good, I saw sea turtles, swam with the sea lions again, and even saw a white-tip reef shark. I parted ways with my new friend and headed back to shower and head to dinner.
The next morning was diving time! Since I had already dove twice, I was much more relaxed this time around. My original dive master was sick, so I ended up tagging along with another group. There were a group of 3 couples from the states on the boat and two guys from Mexico. All were really fun and I enjoyed hanging out with them. The two guys from Mexico had more diving experience so they went separate from us. Two of the couples were just snorkeling, and the other couple went diving with me. Their names were Mike and Joy — how random it was to meet another Joy on a dive boat! We both laughed about the fact that we don’t normally meet other Joys and throughout the day, kept getting confused when someone called our name. The diving was once again amazing as there is just so much sea life constantly around you in the Galapagos. We headed back to San Cristobal and I made plans to meet Ivan, my dive master who was my age, at the local bar later.
A fellow traveler once told me to include my awkward moments in my blog as they show true honesty and character. So with an included pre-warning, here is an awkward moment/story (and a much more awkward night for me!) for you: As I was walking back to my home for the time being on my last night on the islands, Carlos – one of the guys from Mexico who I had met earlier on the dive boat – asked if I wanted to meet up later in time for sunset. I agreed without hesitation, assuming the sunset watching crew would be me, Carlos and his friend. Little did I know, Carlos was asking me out on a more or less one-on-one date.
I ended meeting Carlos who was accompanied by his friend at the moment at the dock during sunset, but to my surprise his friend left to go and take care of some errands shortly after. Carlos and I walked around the dock for a bit and when dinner time rolled around, I suggested we scope out a cheap meal. We ended up at a place with a good and affordable menu of the day (which includes soup, fish, chicken, or beef, and juice) for $3.50. The restaurant was filled with locals so it had good atmosphere and I assumed good food. As we sat down to eat, Carlos’ dive master happened to be at the restaurant with his 5 year old son – who was so adorable and cute! The little boy was flirting with me throughout the whole dinner and even gave me a kiss! At which point, the dive master whispered to Carlos “Sorry man” (I am assuming due to my attention being diverted to the little boy instead of Carlos).
After we finished our meal, we went to pay and Carlos paid for me even though I insisted on the opposite and did not want to give him the idea that we had been on a date. Afterwards, we headed to the bar where I had previously made plans with Ivan to grab a drink earlier that day. There was a pool competition at the bar. I decided to join and ended up being the only girl playing. I came so close to winning but didn’t take home the win. Both Carlos and Ivan were still hanging around throughout the pool competition and it was definitely starting to get more awkward by the moment as I was not sure who to talk to between the two of them in order to make it less awkward for them.
I ended up playing a game of pool with Ivan (since the conversation part I still couldn’t figure out..) and Carlos ended up watching. That night was a bit strange and ironic as it is hard to get a real date in Los Angeles and here I am in the Galapagos, with not one but two dates (sort of). After a few drinks at the pool bar, everyone decided to head to the club on the island. I wasn’t too keen on the idea since the triangle date situation did not seem to be getting any better, however, I decided to go with the flow and joined everyone else. When we got to the club, Ivan went to use the bathroom and at the same moment Carlos seized the opportunity and asked me to dance. There I was, tables turned, dancing with Carlos and this time Ivan was the audience. As I could no longer bare the awkwardness that was apparent throughout the night, I decided to head home. Carlos insisted on walking me back even though my place was a short 1 min walk from the club. As we were walking out, I caught Ivan leaving as well and decided to say goodbye to him. He let me know that if I ever wanted to come back, I had the option of working at the dive shop anytime. After the two second walk home, I said goodbye to Carlos and headed inside. The night I would imagine, did not turn out as any of us had expected. Nonetheless and as awkward as it was, it was definitely a memorable way to say goodbye to the Galapagos on my last night on the islands.
The next morning, I grabbed breakfast and mentally and physically prepared for my 36 hour day of travel.
Edited by: Farima M.