Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Galápagos

This is a short summary of our trip in the Galapagos:
  • Day 1-2 - Just travel 
We left our home on Thursday morning, 14 hours before the plane departure. We stopped for a few hours at the BMW dealership for the maintenance service and then kept driving toward JFK. We made it a couple of hours early, this was good because we had time to get back to the car and recover the forgotten water bottle. The kids were very good on the plane, slept almost all the time. We landed fine in Guayaquil and even stepped out of the airport for a couple of minutes. It looked to be a fine and interesting city, but no time for that. We were almost late for the Galapagos connection because Ileana wanted some ice-cream. We landed in Baltra just on time, and just in time for us to realize that we do not have the permit. We were among the first off the plane, but by far the last ones getting in because it took forever to fill the permit. After $500 and a long wait we were through, the buses left, but Freddy was there to offer us one of the cheapest cruises and some of the finest hotels. We passed on those, but got boat tickets. Of course the last ones, I didn't believe that, who would? Except that he was probably right.
Then we chose a taxi for $20, the guy was the first one surprised of how little baggage we have. It was a good decision because we talked a bit, learned about him and his family. Giovanni was nice enough to let us visit Los Gemellos for a few minutes and dropped us in front of the agency with the boat tickets. They all did what they said but for us it was a long confusion and incertitude. Finally we were on the boat with the help of a nice guy from Peru. Ileana came to lean on her mother, she wasn't able to hold her, I took her in my arms and held her through what she called in Romanian "a trip to hell". Ioan also got sick, only once, then fell asleep. The rest of us was fine. After arriving in Puerto Villamil we found a nice hotel and visited a small place with flamingos. So far so good. We got to the end of the road, or one of the ends of the world and we made it in less than 34 hours.
  • Day 3 - Chasing a sea turtle 
I am chasing a sea turtle with my camera, underwater, flanked by my daughters - in my first ever snorkeling experience. I think that it's stupid, this is a turtle I should be able to swim faster. As the seconds get by I start to realize that I'm not that young anymore and I should be more cautious, this is her element after all and maybe I should let her get away. Then I realize that it's not really my choice, she's long gone. But I did see a sea turtle and I got it on camera for a couple seconds. A fish made faces at me and a sea lion was nearby. This was a great first day in Puerto Villamil. I slept uninterupted for 9 hours and 26 minutes, we all slept well, my daughter Ileana even said it was her best sleep ever. Then we started slowly with the breakfast in the restaurant and then maybe an hour of unpacking and preparing for some exploration. We went on a trip to the breeding center, 1 km through the island, by ourselves, on a very nice trail. We saw some of their 1000 turtles and in the afternoon we went to the trip to Islas Tintoreras. This is volcanic little island inhabited by some iguanas, lizards, penguins and white fin sharks. At the end we snorkeled, Ileana stayed in the boat because it was cold, but I followed the kids and had a blast, I even thought for a moment that I'm in trouble, what if I'm hooked now on some crazy expensive hobby? We ended the evening with dinner at the Tres Hermanos restaurant in the village and a nice conversation with a couple from Peru.
  • Day 4 - Riding a wild horse 
Sunday we planned a visit to the Volcano Sierra Negra. We asked if we could get horses for the kids, we were first told that nobody knows, probably not. A few hours later we were told that this day is horses only and we will have to take a horse. After a 30 minute drive up the volcano we pass some shekel and a group of horses surrounds the car neighing and jumping with excitement. These were our horses and I was the third one assigned to one, a big and dark one. I had to jump on it and before I knew it I was down in the dust. Ileana explained later that it was a technical problem, not my fault and it would have happened to anyone. We had to go a bit over one hour up the mountain to reach one of the largest calderas in the world and the trip by horse was pretty good. I ended up in a group by myself, three people ahead, then me then Ileana and Maria followed by the local cowboy and then a few minutes behind were the other kids and the rest of the group. Unfortunately after a while I became uncomfortable, I wanted to know how the kids were so I waited for Ileana and Maria and let them pass to end up with the cowboy behind me shushing my horse to hurry up. And my horse would hurry up trying to pass Ileana or Maria, but their horses wouldn't want it, and Maria didn't want to let me go ahead again. And Ileana wouldn't understand why I wanted to know how the kids were and why I hated so much being pushed from behind by the cowboy. Eventually we made it to the top, saw the caldera and started riding around it, after a while we reached the northern part of it, left the horses behind and walked by the rim. A couple minutes later Ileana and Ioan arrived with a triumphant yell. They were fine and had fun all the time.
We started to walk toward the Volcano Chico, a beautiful, martian landscape with cacti. We were lucky to have clear skies - we saw all the other volcanos on Isabela, probably saw the Fernandina Island and saw a couple of other islands. It was tempting to want to go further, more and more and see more. But we stopped after a while and started climbing back toward our horses. We had our picnic under a magnificent tree and the guide was still behind with a couple of the people. When he finally came, two young ladies asked permission to take off to go ahead and start walking back. It was very tempting to me and in a couple of moments I decided to walk back too. For three reasons, first because I really wanted the exercise, second, because I was afraid to ride back on my wild horse, especially going downhill it was hard to control it, and third, because I was told to let the kids have fun and trust them. 
After we got back to the hotel, the girls wanted to take a shower and just stay in the room so we took Ioan by the ocean. A different notion of a deserted beach, there were some houses in the background but it was just us and a huge iguana, she left, a small one came, we chased some crabs between some lava rocks and Ileana and Ioan played with the waves for a few minutes. Just the second day of vacation. It's not real...
  • Day 5 - Stealing my money 
To my mind if somebody takes $115 and says she'll bring a receipt tomorrow and then never comes and disappears without trace, that means something. I woke up early on Monday morning trying to calm my thoughts and tell myself that we will get on the boat even without the tickets. We were up at 5 and off the door by 5.30. On the boat at 6.10, because of course, Maira the young lady at the hotel made all the arrangements for the boat, like she said. She might not even realize that in other part of the world some people would just take the money and disappear with it. 
The second boat ride was better, it was early in the morning, the boat was better, the sea was calmer. We arrived without problem at Cactuspad, our residence for five nights in Santa Cruz. We left the kids home and walked in the town to see what's available for the next few days. We inquired at Moonrise travel, Yvonne found two short cruises, we were not even sure we want something like that, but the price and the opportunity was too good to pass. In short we spent a few hours reviewing our choices, including more than an hour in her office, and after spending $3925 we got a cruise for 4 days that will visit Floreana and Española and leave us on San Cristobal, plus two day trips for Thursday and Friday. We will then have three nights on Cristobal and return to Santa Cruz for the night before our departure. We got home and we had a little ceremony, giving each of the children one of the receipts, Ioan received the receipt for the cruise, the big ticket, it will start on his birthday. Then we told them that we are out of money and it will be pasta for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Instead of protests we got cheers!
  • Day 6 - Toward the Center of the Earth 
It's raining here and it's cold. Last night I was able to get some weather forecast that said sunny and clear sky. So it' s raining, it rained all night, it's the garúa season. Change of plan: we'll go to the lava tunnels. We stopped the first taxi, he would take us there and wait for us, for $25. He has a flier and I realize this is not what I want. I want the tunnels next to Belavista, only 7 km away and only $10. We ended up visiting the Gallardo's caves, a pair of fantastic lava tunnels. We met Mr. Gallardo who must be in the late 80's, he was a teacher who came from the main land in 1948 and discovered the tunnels on his land. His daughter walked us to the entrance. We started with the non-touristic one, a fantastic experience that reminded us of both Cetatile Ponorului, in the Romanian Apuseni Mountains, and the Jules Verne's Travel to the center of the earth.
Gallardo's Tunnels
It turned out that there was only one other couple that went in this tunnel this year. Then we visited the Tunnel del amor, the touristic one that even had some electrical light. We loved it, the kids had fun, we would recommend it to anybody. The ticket cost was $10 for the five of us.  When we got out the rain stopped and after lunch we went to the Darwin Center and the local tiny beach.
  • Day 7 - A Perfect Beach 
The sky is still clouded but we have a plan and we have to follow it. Today it is Tortuga Bay, no matter what. It's a long trip and this would be the last chance. We are at the entrance of the trail by 10.15 and we start a power walk for the 3.5 km. We walk among cacti and bushes, the trail is of side walk stone, the sun starts showing more and more. We come at the first beach, it looks great but it is dangerous, we have to walk another kilometer. We take the wrong turn and end up on the lava rocks above the ocean with hundreds of iguanas. We were barefooted and it was rough, but I used my power of suggestion yelling and screaming, faster and faster, "it's doesn't sting, it's doesn't burn, it doesn't stink!" It did stink really bad, there were left overs from the birds and animals. After a while we had to get our shoes back on and after a few minutes we arrived at the most perfect lagoon in the world. A perfect beach with fine white sand, and some trees to keep us shade a few meters from the shore. No insects, no snails, no shells, no waves, a blue green warm water, a little breeze and sunny clear skies. Here and there a marine iguana, passing by.

The kids spent an hour in the water playing with each other. After a while we rented a kayak for a little exploration in search of "tortugas y tintoretas", sea turtles and hammerhead sharks. We didn't find any, Ileana stayed behind and saw a turtle in the water, but we had a great kayak trip anyhow. First time kayaking in the Pacific Ocean. On the return trip the kids snorkeled for a bit and Ioan filmed "thousands" of fish. We came back after 4 pm, a perfect day at a perfect beach. The only negative is that I will never ever find a better beach. It will be hard not to compare with Tortuga Bay, somewhere in the Galapagos...
  • Day 8 - North Seymour 
Traveling in the Galapagos is a well organized affair, but for us the day started with half an hour of waiting in the rain. We were warned that it might take 10-20 minutes before the bus picks us up, but after 20 minutes we were ready to call Yvonne and ask some questions. Then the bus came and we got a short apology. We thought we were the last ones but after 15 minutes we stopped on the side of the road and we waited for a couple coming by taxi. Apparently they were forgotten, we never learned the full story. The rest of the day was much better, the boat was slow and stable, no reason to be concerned with sea sickness. We visited the North Seymour Island, it was a 90 minutes walk among frigates and blue foot boobies, several youngsters were really cute. Then we found a couple of sea lion cubs, one probably only a week old.
It was frustrating at some point to see Ileana several steps ahead, looking bored and disinterested. I had a talk with her and she explained first that it was boring and then that she doesn't like to manifest her emotions. How frustrating for a father to work so hard to arrange a trip to Galapagos and then to be told that "it's boring". I really didn't find my sense of humor, especially with the prospect of a longer trip coming up. We had another brief conversation before dinner and she clarified that knowing herself, she was afraid to let her emotions out of check because she might have lost her control and might have stepped out of the trail or might have made sounds that would have scared the birds. So she was so excited that she had to act bored in order not to lose it. And I only found out at the end of the day...
The afternoon was also frustrating because the second part of the trip involved a snorkeling session, but they didn't have decent equipment and the water was cold. Funny though, when all was said and done it looked like another good day. Ileana had a great time all along and the kids too.
  • Day 9 - Bartolomé 
Up at 4.30 am it's not something easy for us but we were laughing in the street at 5.10 am telling our stories, about our dreams and morning experience. I was asking Ileana if Ioan has other shorts besides this ones and she was answering that this ones are the other ones, or the other ones are this ones, and none of us knew what was going on. We made it and we waited much less for the bus, then another 45 minutes to the boat and three hours on the boat. We had a good breakfast and a short nap in the morning, Maria enjoyed staying by herself in the front of the boat, even saw some dolphins. Ileana came to tell us that she thinks that she wants to spend the rest of her life on a boat. Last week she was so sick she thought she went to hell and today she refuses the sickness pill and wants on a boat. This is our daughter, never a moment of dullness. We arrived at Bartolomé island and started the ascension surrounded by lava terraces. Here and there a small cactus and a small bush. Going up and up we were starting to get some idea of the magnificent landscape, but the view from the top was the best. It is one of the iconic images of Galapagos and it is really worth the time and the trip. Not sure if it is worth $425, but I will say yes.
The second part of the day was another snorkel, on the right beach, much better equipment and the wind went down. The water was cold at the beginning, but soon we warmed up. We had a blast. All of us saw a colony of brightly colored fish, a penguin, several sea lions. Ileana and then her mother filmed a lot under water. We had a good lunch and then another 4 hours until we got home. We all slept on the boat, I walk up from my nap asking something really stupid, like "Do I have to sleep ever again?"
Our first cruise. Nobody knows how we ended up on the cruise paying about 30% of the good cheap rate. We had 3 nights and 4 days by their count. By my count we had 3 nights and 2 days. Both first and last day activities could have been done independently on Santa Cruz and on San Cristobal, so I only count the full days on the boat. These were fully scheduled, intense days, with a dingy ride, two landings and two snorkeling sessions. Breakfast was served at 7 am and the activities started at 8, ending with a conference at 6.30, before dinner. When we arrived we had a lunch of calamar that was fantastic. Unfortunately the kids suspected something and skipped the thing. Then we visited the Santa Cruz highlands. Second day was Floreana and the third day was Española. At 8 am on the fourth day we were taken ashore for a visit to the Exhibition centre on San Cristobal.

Ver Galapagos Galaxy 2011 - 4 Days Itinerary en un mapa más grande
The cruise was for 16 people, but we were only 12. The guide, born and raised on San Cristobal, was Roberto. There were another 9 cruise members, including the barman and waiter, Angel. The passengers were three young men from New York City, four people from Austria and us. Unfortunately despite the luxury and the comfort a cruise is not for us. I hate the system of tips, I find it appalling that after charging $400 per night they recommend a tip of $10-15 for the crew and a similar separate one for the guide. This is per person per day, so the total for me to pay would be between 200 and 300 times two. They recommend the level of tips based on the satisfaction with service. I didn't care that it was cold and we didn't have hot water in the shower. Even at the bargain price of $3000 instead of the regular price of $8000, I found it very hard to justify the expense and I couldn't fully enjoy the experience. I decided from the beginning that the tip would be $100, it is still a lot of money in my mind. My family was able to disregard these aspects and fully enjoy the cruise, the attention from the crew and luxurious meals. I would highly recommend Galaxy to anybody, just don't carry with you a family of five. We really liked spending the last night talking more with Roberto and then with Harald and Franz, the two austrians who were spending a two week vacation climbing three peaks in Ecuador, plus Galapagos, Peru (Cuzco, Machu Picchu and Puno) and Bolivia (Isla del Sol and La Paz). Talk about fast travel. The girls liked to talk with the people on the cruise, I think especially with Franz. My daughter Ileana was impressed with his record 70 countries visited and she was sure that he travelled around the world. He actually did, he told us about his three-week trip from Vienna to Tokyo, Hawaii, LA, Houston, Vienna. Maria was a bit frustrated because she couldn't talk about our future plans for travel. I told her she could, but it was too late already.
  • Day 13-15 -  San Cristobal 
We initially planned almost a full week on this island, but after the cruise we only had three days left. Some of us were tired and wanted less activities. Some were just longing for internet and computer time. The first day was half planned by the activity from the cruise and the optional tour of the tijeretas. This was a nicely paved climbed up the local hill, a nice view of the ocean and some frigates. In the afternoon I convinced the rest of the family to go to La Loberia. This was a short taxi ride, followed by a nice walk along the shore. Ileana Ruxandra was ahead and after a couple of minutes gave up, "there are just rocks here". Ileana was following her mother, and Maria and I decided to continue ahead. At this point we heard Ileana scream, followed by her mother's reaction. She bumped her toe and it was a little bloody! We ended up going all the way along the beach to a nice little lagoon where local sea lions were hanging out. 
The taxi driver, Xaviere, came back for us and he offered to take us to a trip on the highlands. When we left next day in the morning, Ileana Ruxandra already has made her mind that this was to be the last excursion. The last two days of vacation will be just vacation... 
It was a four hour day trip with a few nice objectives along the way, El Lagoon, the only fresh permanent water in the Galapagos, the tortoise breeding center and Punto Chino, another amazing deserted beach at the end of the road.
Punto Chino, San Cristobal
Not too many people encountered, but when we were circling the lagoon, a guy, Cristian, asked where are we from. He thought he heard us speaking Romanian, his wife was Romanian, they were living for two years in the islands. We met Madalina at a local tourist agency. It was nice to speak Romanian, and we used her the next day to rent snorkeling material. In the afternoon the kids didn't want to leave the room so we (the parents) left by ourselves and spent a couple of hours alone on the Love Beach waiting for and watching a great sunset.

Thursday was the second day in a row with clear sunny skies but Ileana and the girls didn't want to do anything. After a couple of hours Ioan and I decided to go snorkeling and we had a great afternoon together, swimming with a couple of sea lions and sea turtles. A quiet evening and preparing the luggage for early departure tomorrow. 
  • Day 16 - Puerto Ayora
The last boat ride was eventless. We might be able to get used to this... We came back from San Cristobal to Santa Cruz so tomorrow we can get to the airport. We had reserved an apartment on our previous visit, we checked in at 10.30 am at Judy's Suites. I started to read the book "Around the World in 80 Days" while Ileana and the kids were watching some DVD. In the middle of the day! Just being able to relax and accept such a waste of time was a good experience. Don't ask me what movie it was, I think I am becoming allergic to Nicholas Cage. That would be a shame, but there are worse things  in this world.
We had a plan: eat at two recommended restaurants and go again to the perfect beach!

On the beach, the kids are playing in the water and we start talking about our current vacation and about the trip around the world. To make a long story short, Ileana informs me that she doesn't really want to go to South America during our trip. It makes sense, we are in South America, we love the culture, the people and the things we want to see and we know for sure that we are coming back! During the following minutes, hours and days I repeat to myself a million times that we are not going to South America and it's OK. After a while I start to believe it...At night the girls stayed home by themselves to finish the food and do their things and the boys took mom out to dinner!
  • Day 17 - Coming back
Wake up at 5.45, in the taxi at 6.30, on the boat at 7.30, on the bus at 8 and there we are the first people in line at the LAN counter for checkin. And there I stayed for the next hour because the lady was so dull.  The rest of the plane checked in, almost everybody, using the other 2 agents and I was still there patiently waiting for her to figure out things. The luggage man came to help and not having much to do wanted to check the weight of our hand luggage, and surely, we had to check that in. And of course the other two agents finished the rest of the plane and came over to help our lady. After she finished she told me that I will have to checkin in Guayaquil for the plane to NYC! I asked her nicely why? and she realized that is part of her job and agreed to do it. Then she forgot the frequent flyer miles and had to reprint the boarding passes. Anyhow, something to remember. We had fun in Guayaquil trying to recover our luggage and we were able to get it. We waited more than an hour to enter USA, a shame compared to any country that we know so far. Maybe we'll find something worse on our trip, that would be great!
The 5 hour ride back home in the middle of the night was OK. Ileana drove a bit, I slept and when she pulled over I told her to be careful at the sea lion in the middle of the parking lot. My mistake, it was a puddle.  Then I start driving and at one point there was a lizard on my wiper blade. Thankfully we were all in our beds by 4 am and I don't remember after that...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comment form message here