Ecuador - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 399 (209)

On board NEMO I

Monday 11th April (2005)

We skipped what we anticipated would be a very meagre breakfast this morning and instead took our time to pack and get our act together. I’d already paid in full for our two nights' accommodation when we first checked in so we hailed a taxi outside to take us to the bus station for our trip back over to Baltra and the start of our long awaited Galapagos cruise. I made sure to clearly articulate the required destination of the bus station to the driver and he seemed to instantly know what we meant but took us instead to a nearby hotel for some reason. We had to draw upon our recently acquired phrasebook to get him to understand exactly where we needed to go. I’m not too sure how get got bus station and Hotel Galapagos mixed up but there you go. We got there in the end and handed over the standard fare of US$1 (€0,77). Karen, the Australian girl that had booked herself onto the same boat as us, was already there at the bus station so we chatted for a while to kill time before buying our US$1,80 (€1,38) bus tickets and climbing aboard. I for one was glad to be on the bus because of the thousands of small and very annoying flies that were buzzing around. They aren’t the sort that bite or sting but they do swarm around the face and eyes and can be extremely irritating if you stop moving.

The bus took us the now familiar hour route over the island to the dock where we were to once again board the small ferry back over to Baltra. As we were boarding the ferry, we were treated to a truly amazing phenomenon. A huge flock of hundreds if not thousands of blue-footed boobies were circling the waters in a low pattern and every now and then they started to dart swiftly into the water like missiles. As one dived, the rest all followed suit and it sounded like a machine gun was firing. Blue-footed boobies had long and pointed bills and they hit the water after bending back their wings, converting themselves into a pointed spear. Their speed as they hit the water carries them on for several metres as they slice through the water hunting for fish. One by one, they all swiftly pop their heads out of the water, shake themselves dry and take off again for another pass over the water. It’s impressive enough to see this behaviour from an individual bird but to see this collective effort of targeting schools of small fish by hundreds of them at a time was just incredible. Our cruise hadn’t even yet started but I was already thinking that today was a big success for us having witnessed this incredible spectacle.

I was on a high for quite some time after the mass booby feeding frenzy and I found us pulling up to the airport without realising that we had completed the second smaller bus journey. The three of us were expecting to find our guide or some other representative from our cruise company waiting for us but we didn’t see anything that looked obvious when we got off of the bus. There were quite a few people arriving and departing the small airport so it may simply be that we missed him in the chaos. Sandy and Karen took a seat with the bags and I went to find him. He was apparently searching around for a couple of passengers from one of the recently arrived flights. It turned out not to be the guide that we expected but another that was arranged at the last minute due to our intended guide having had to pull out. Juan Carlos is a level-III naturalist guide with over twenty years of experience and I know we will be in good hands with him. We had to wait around for about an hour whilst the remainder of the passengers on our cruise arrived on the next couple of incoming flights. In the meantime, we did a bit more last minute souvenir shopping and sandy bought herself a better hat. Once we were all assembled, our bags and us left for the nearby cruise boat dock in a truck and bus respectfully.

The cruise boat dock is just a few minutes' drive from the airport and we started to see a wealth of Galapagos wildlife just as soon as we arrived. In addition to the sea lions lazing under the jetty, we saw several birds including a fair few frigates soaring overhead. Our vessel stood out amongst the crowd, being the only catamaran in the water. Our boat’s small launch, known locally as a panga, arrived to collect us all and we were taken swiftly over to great the NEMO I for the first time. Our guide, Juan, wasted no time in initiating his boat safety and Galapagos conservation briefing.

The NEMO I is quite a fantastic vessel and we will enjoy ourselves immensely over the coming week. All is not a bed of roses, however. A couple of significant differences have emerged between what we were told was part of the deal versus what has turned out to be the case. Less significantly, although still quite annoying, we were told that water and soft drinks were included in the package but that alcohol was extra. However, we’ve now been told that soft drinks are extra too. Since we tend to drink a lot of soft drinks, this wasn’t particularly welcome news. Despite the fact that almost everyone other passenger was also under this same impression of there being free soft drinks on board, it remains the apparent policy of the cruise company to not include them for free. I can probably live with the extra dollar here and there for a soft drink but more of an issue is the fact that we were led to believe that the cabins were spacious and air-conditioned. Not only are they extremely small and cramped but also there is no air-conditioning anywhere on the boat. This last issue in particular is not sitting very well with me at all and I have made my dissatisfaction very plain to both our guide as well as the boat owner, who just happens to be spending the afternoon with us on this first day. In fact, I’ve felt quite cheated in not receiving that what I was told we were paying for.

Shortly after the initial boat briefing, lunch of braised meat, salad and fruit was served. We had to confirm our dietary wishes and requirements as a part of the initial briefing and it will be interesting to see just how well we fare with the food on-board for the coming week.

During lunch, the catamaran cruised very slowly from the channel in which the dock resides and out around the island to our first destination. This pristine, white sand, beach was to be our first disembarkation point. There are to be two types of landing with this first being a wet landing. The panga took us all the few hundred metres to shore and we had to jump over the side into knee-deep water to reach the beach.

There was a wealth of wildlife on this sandy shore and much of it was of the variety that we would not be able to see elsewhere. For starters, numerous bright red and yellow crabs were scurrying around the beach and made for some fantastic photography with their bright colours contrasted beautifully against the white background of the sand. We also saw a marine iguana and several interesting birds such as the pelagic oystercatcher. The waves crashed gently against a rising bank of powdery sand beach that raised inland to form a ridgeline around the shore. At the top of this ridge were dozens of steaks that marked the sites of turtle nests. Apparently, this is the time of year that turtles return to their birthplaces to lay hundreds of eggs in nests on the sand beaches where they were born. We’d have little chance of seeing the turtles themselves, however, since there is a land curfew all throughout the Galapagos Islands between the hours of sunset and sunrise. This is one of many rules and regulations that are in place to protect and preserve the fragile environment here.

We enjoyed a good hour on the beach, photographing the wildlife, before our panga came to collect us and bring us back to the catamaran. A couple of us got the unique chance to be hoisted up to the top of the main sail mast to take photos of the boat below. This made for some fascinating photos. The briefing for tomorrow’s itinerary followed our dinner this evening and I’m only now starting to relax a bit from my earlier bout of sulking as a result of the air-conditioning issue.