Sunday, August 7, 2011

And finally......The Galapagos

So this is where it will end then. 13 months of travel have led me to the Galapagos Islands, a destination I wasn’t sure that I could afford to visit but those nights spent in shitty overnight buses, overcrowded Indian trains, that hideous Malian cuisine, the strange nuclear bunker I stayed in when in Burkina Faso amongst others have all helped to fund this visit. It took 27 hours in a bus from Lima to Guayaquil although this time I travelled with Cruz Del Sur which meant a little extra leg room, blankets and pillows, wi-fi (!) three meals and an overworked attendant keeping everyone happy by changing the DVD selection from one moronic Disney movie to the next. Still, it made a change from fucking Roxette.
It's a little ironic that my worst border crossing of all has been reserved till last as Ecuadorian border officials (the Peruvians were quick to have us on our way again) display Keystone Cops' incompetence at passing us through. Their computer system is down and there they sit pulling faces behind each other - no really - as they take calls whilst we stand for an hour in the heat waiting for someone to remember to plug the fucking computer in. On arrival in Baltra airport on Santa Cruz the officials are thorough but swift in checking that we're not bringing anything in here that may harm the fragile ecosystem.
Getting to the Galapagos is easy, choosing who you’ll do a cruise with is the hard part. For the past 6 weeks I’ve been sending emails enquiring as to prices/itineraries etc for a 6 or 8 day cruise and some of the agencies have been like a dog in heat constantly sniffing around my arse ever since. I lost count of the number of times the agent I was corresponding with told me that “I’ve just returned from a cruise on the Princess and it was magnificent.” Don’t these people work? Anyway, skirting around the bullshit is a challenge but you can generally see through most of the spin and then you just need to choose a ship which has an itinerary you like the sound of, is reasonably affordable (nothing’s cheap here but I‘m disposing of whatever money I have left before I return and have the Irish government do it for me) and which looks sufficiently buoyant for 6 days on the water. There are many different classes of boat to choose from - Economy, Tourist, Tourist Superior, First and Luxury - it all depends on how much you wish to splurge. Economy boats are a case of getting what you pay for i.e. fuck all. I paid $1,600 for a 6 day/5 night cruise on the Sagitta - a First Class sailing boat - but bearing in mind that this included return air fare from Ecuador ($400), all meals on board, a top class guide and an awesome itinerary alleviated the pain somewhat. All a far cry from DVT inducing rides in dust-filled 4WDs to Timbuktu. Travelling isn’t always about the pain.
Puerto Ayora is my base before the cruise begins on Monday (8th) and there are endless opportunities to explore some of the outlying islands on day tours and so I head off to neighbouring Isabela where we're promised sightings of penguins, sea lions, marine iguanas (they're everywhere), white-tipped sharks and flamingos. And this being The Galapagos, we see each and every one of them. We go snorkelling and get up close and personal with a fearless penguin and are joined for a swim by a sea lion - all apparently par for the course in these parts. As an introduction to life on the islands here it's wonderful. On our ramble across one of the islands we reach a sign which alerts us to the fact that white-tipped sharks may be resting nearby and there they are - exactly where the sign suggests they might well be found, about 8 of them. Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come.

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