We were up earlier than we would like given that we did not need to meet our boat at the channel between Baltra (the island with the airport) and Santa Cruz until noon. But when the last bus is at 9 (for $1.80) and the alternative is an $18 cab, up by 7 is the logical choice.
We visited our favorite breakfast place one last time (although we may never know the restaurants name) and ordered the usual: pancakes for Sarah and the continental for me. $8.54.
At 8:30 we caught a cab to the bus station which, for reasons I can't begin to imagine, is well out of town on the north side. It's as if they are expecting a huge amount of sprawl and to some day have service to Quito...
We arrived at the channel at 9:30 and awaited our boat, the Floreana, for our 8-day cruise. The docks were busy that morning as literally boat loads of passengers were being shuttled across the channel and on to the airport to catch their flights. There was also a larger ferry transporting two dump trucks filled with dirt and other materials across the channel. We had
noticed there was construction going on at the airport and these trucks looked to be bringing supplies there, perhaps from the quarry we saw on our walk back from La Loberia.
As we passed the time, mostly with me kicking Sarah's butt in gin and scopa, we realized there was another couple doing the same. We introduced ourselves to Ann and Fabian, thus meeting the first people on our boat. They were a French couple, who spoke English very well, and who are on a round the world trip in a year. Ann was planning their stop in India as we waited.
Noon rolled around and the Floreana rolled in. After watching the crew shuttle countless eggs, bananas and other supplies to the boat, the 4 of us hopped on a dinghy and made the short trip to the boat. The dinghy's take an interesting approach to docking, whether at the boat or at the dock. They press the bow (nose) of the boat against the dock and confined to run the motors pushing the dinghy in to its target. That way passengers can just walk right out on the bow and on to the dock or boat.
After getting checked in by the captain of the previous cruise, we went to check out our room, number 6. #6 sits in the bottom of the boat along with 5 other cabins (there are 2 cabins on the main level). The cabins are all the same: s-m-a-l-l. They are about six feet long and four feet wide with bunk beds taking up 90% of the room. They sit about halfway under water. There are two small port holes letting in natural light, an air conditioning unit, a little built in closet and two small under-bed drawers. Each room has a private bathroom, also small, but functional. All in all, it is a pretty decent space and really every bit as comfortable as some hostals we have stayed in.
So, a little about the boat, the Floreana. It is a tourist superior class boat (the levels being, in ascending order, economy/tourist, tourist superior, first class and luxury) so it is pretty basic, although on the higher end of basic, meant for backpackers like us. The boat was built in the 80's. I already described the lower level of bunks. On the main level, from back to front, is
the kitchen, dining area, walkway/stairs area, the other two passenger cabins, crew cabins and the the bridge. On the upper deck are two large hang out type areas. The area in the back is just empty and uncovered. In the front it is covered and there are lounge chairs and benches. All in all it seems like a good amount of space for the 16 passengers and 7 crew.
After getting settled we explored the boat a bit and ended up hanging out on the covered upper deck. We wondered where the rest of the passengers were as they were supposed to be picked up around 10:30. Well, we did not wonder long as a huge female frigate bird landed on part of the boat. It was really cool to see the large bird up close. It must have a wing span of at least 5 feet. The bird did not seem too bothered by us as we snapped pictures.
Just then we saw movement in the water as a smaller shark cruised by. Instantly we were no longer interested in the bird. We did not get a great look though as it was an overcast day and
We relaxed a bit and chatted about our travel. And then another shark appeared in the water, this one much bigger and darker. It was still too far from the surface to really get a good look though. Over the next hour, as we awaited the other passengers this shark continued to pass by the boat. Eventually we were able to determine it was a black tip reef shark around 8-9 feet in length. Cool. There were also a ton of fish hanging out by an exhaust part of the boat.
The other passengers arrived, apparently they had been waiting for us at the airport...After they got settled we had a little orientation on the upper deck. Victor, our guide for the trip, introduced himself and awkwardly said that any problems we had on our travels before right now were not the responsibility of the Floreana and that the Floreana´s responsibility starts now. Not sure if others had problems or what. Victor spoke only in English, and pretty good English at that, which was fitting for our all gringo group. Everybody looked/talked like English was their first language or a strong second.
That was somewhat surprising for me. I thought we would have a tour in English and Spanish, but apparently we were going all English on this one. Exciting!
Before heading to the dining room for lunch the captain pointed out a bunch of Blue Footed Boobies fishing. It was really interesting to see dozens of them dart in to the water at the same time and we have an awesome video on it (note that we have some amazing videos, but they take way too long to upload from South America so we will be doing so when we get back - if you are a subscriber to the blog I think you will get an email when we upload them, definitely worth checking out). At lunch there was a lot of chatter as people started to learn about each other. There were 4 tables that fit 4 people each. Most of the conversation was geared around where people had been traveling. We sat with Ann and Fabian.
After lunch we were back on the dinghys and then on a bus heading back inland. At the small village of Santa Maria we turned off and headed down a
small dirt road towards the tortoise habitat. We passed two medium sized tortoises on the drive but did not really stop. On the hike we saw a bunch of really big tortoises. The biggest was over 200 kilograms and 150+ years old. Not only was it gigantic, but it was the only one we saw really moving and we captured the incredible feat on video (see note above on videos). One other tortoise was eating a Passion fruit which was interesting to see as he tried to get the remaining bites in his mouth that were stuck to his jaw. We also saw an endemic big white tree, Scalesia I think, and a 3-4 year old tortoise that was about as big as any land turtle I have ever seen back home.
Endemic species is a term we will use a bunch. An endemic species is an animal or plant species whose habitat is restricted to a particular area or space on the globe. Basically animals that are unique to the Galapagos and not found anywhere else.
While it was nice seeing the tortoises at the research center it was much more enjoyable seeing them in their natural
habitat. We could see places where the giant tortoises had gone before because of the pushed down shrubs and the gigantic dung along their trails.
Next up was exploring the lava tubes. When a volcano is erupting and the lava flowing sometimes the surface lava will cool off and harden. The lava under the hardened crust will continue to flow and when the volcano has finished erupting large tubes can be left behind. They are basically big empty caves. We walked 1 kilometer underground and emerged at a conveniently placed bar that provided drinks for some of the group as we tried to watch the sunset. I say tried because it was cloudy and there was a funny debate over whether or not the sun had already set.
Back on the boat we ate dinner and then carried out a traditional introduction of the crew and passengers over a piña colada. Cheers and off to bed for most. Those that stayed up, not us, were rewarded with watching a dead fish on the waters surface being inspected first by sea lions then by a shark.
At 11:30 the boat engine roared, thus waking everybody up and we
were off to Genovesa. Most people did not sleep well as the seas rolled them around in their beds.
At this point we did not know everybody on the boat, but it makes sense to introduce our fellow cruise goers as well as the crew. Also below are more photos of the boat and our setup. Above we talk a bit about Ann and Fabian as well as our guide, Victor. Photos are below of everybody and here are a couple quick notes (groupings based on who is sharing a cabin). Everybody was between the ages of 22 and 40 and almost everybody was in the middle of much more extensive travel. We had 4 Americans, 4 Austrailians, 3 English, 2 French, 2 German, and 1 Israili.
Victor - guide in the Galapagos of 20 years and it showed. His English was really good. You could tell he cared about the wildlife and the Galapagos. We have no complaints about Victor and would highly recommend him.
Charlotte and Nate - friends traveling together. Both were living in a small mountain town in Canada, British Colombia, but she is from England and he is from Austrailia. They had
Lots of fishLots of fish feeding off the gross part of the boat
been traveling together for a few months with some other people and were heading to Colombia next. Charlotte was a trip and between her and Claire they formed a very cool duo.
Claire and Sheerah - the only two people who did not know eachother and shared a cabin on the trip. Claire was the life of the party and was a lot of fun to be around. She is from Austrailia and is traveling for a year plus. Sheerah is Israili and was the only person on the boat who was unpleasant to be around (which I would say worked out quite good with a group of 14 strangers).
Carly and Josh - couple from Perth, Austrailia. They were in the middle of an 8ish month travel around the world that she sort of twisted his arm in to doing (no regrets from him though). They both have done quite a bit of scuba diving and really enjoyed the snorkeling.
Dave and Natasha - the others from the United States, although Natasha is Polish. A couple from Montana. They were the only ones not on a more extensive travel trip, but they have traveled all over
the world on other trips. Dave had just opened a restaurant a few months earlier and it was the down season so they had time to go to the Galapagos.
Fabian and Ann - mentioned above, French couple on a year round the world trip. Next up New Zealand and then they are meeting one of their parents in India.
Michelle and Brenton - couple from England who were on a long trip. Michelle is super talkative and really did a nice job getting conversation going in the whole group especially in the beginning of the trip.
Tony and Sarah - a German couple who we probably got to know the least out of the group, at no fault or anything, just the way it worked out.
The "Republic of the Equator" was one of three countries that emerged from the collapse of Gran Colombia in 1830 (the others are Colombia and Venezuela). Between 1904 and 1942, Ecuador lost territories in a series of conflicts with its neighbors. A b...more info