Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Galapagos Myths Dispelled

After overdoing it the last few days, and getting a little more than my quota of sun yesterday, despite precautions, today has been designated a 'rest day'. A post card or two for the girls, put my dhobying into the laundry for a change (2 x shirt + 1 x trousers washed and ironed $1 - bloody scandalous), caught up on some notes and typed the Glaucous-winged Gull report.

I now have time to write a few words, mainly for those who may be contemplating a visit to these magic Islands, and to dispel the myths. When Hughsie and I decided to travel this way about 7 years ago, the only information we could gather was by and large negative. Regardless we forged on with no pre-booking, only the knowledge that we could take another track if all else failed. We heard that flights were 'thin on the ground', hotels nonexistent and generally the place was not geared up for tourists. I would say straight off that Ecuador and more particularly Galapagos are among the easiest countries I have traveled, but will stick for now with the Islands.

Up to 5 flights leave daily from both Quito and Guayaquil, and having done both would say it's only a matter of how much time you have which one you choose. This trip, from the latter city, the return flight cost £228.31 (using an exchange rate of $1.6 to the £) and as I have already said through these pages, the best on the Internet was £320. After the Sucre collapsed earlier this century Ecuador took the US$ as its currency which makes life very easy. The best bet is to emphasizes a flight to Baltra (there being nothing wrong with the alternative, San Cristobel) except Santa Cruz, and particularly Peurto Ayora, is far more geared up and close to most of the attractions.

Once you land on Baltra a transfer bus awaits and for less than $1 you are shuttled to The Canal where a 75 cent boat ride follows. It's then 42Km to the capital, cost $1.50, and the choice of hotel is yours. Starting at the 'bottom end' there are hostels at less than $10, but I have no idea of the quality, while only because I have stayed here before, I opted for the Hotel Castro. This is a clean, fairly quiet (for probably the noisiest nation on earth), well run, safe, secure and most friendly place, for a paltry £18.75 per night including breakfast.

On the street, no taxi fare should cost you more than $10 even if you late for your flight, but why bother when the bus is a 'tenth' of the price. Restaurants and cafes are plentiful, in my experience clean and friendly and good value for money. Last evening I had charcoal grilled octopus, with a decent salad, chips and 2 soft drinks - total $11. Tours may seem a little pricey but I think not bad value. Visits to the nearer islands work out at about $70, bearing in mind this usually includes pick-up and transfers, breakfast, a good 'fish' lunch plus, in some cases, snorkeling. Mid-distance destinations are about$100 to $130 but if your going the whole hog, a cruise is for you. On arrival I was offered an 8 day 'island hop' for $650 which, with nothing else to pay seems lake a steel, and for those who would try for ALL the 'endemics' (a tall order to say the least, think Mangrove Finch) this would be a must.

That's probably more that enough information for one day, but the point being this is an easy country to travel, and why pay the 'fat cat', stay at home and collect the cash tour operators when you can be spending your money with the indigenous people and supporting their economy. Finally, I have an exceptional 21 day 'birding itinerary' should any of you want a squint, and if further to that you are a group and wish to be led my mate Byron is your man!

You Can Do It On Your Own

A Snapshot (or two) of Puerto Ayora

The Main Pleasure Pier

Puerto Ayora Haven

The Busy Inner Harbour

The Promenade, about the closest I'm going to get to a Black-footed Albatross.

The Catholic Church right next to my hotel, I have to admit the songs they sing here each morning and evening are a joy to behold.

Part of the Town Square, each evening this place teams with people either playing or watching Volleyball.

The Harbour Master's Office

Council Offices

Where the Main Roads Meet

One of the three Main Streets

The Quality
This high quality Jewelry Shop replaced a tarpaulin covered stalled that Mike Hughes and I sheltered under during a proposed visit to the Darwin Center last time here. The rain, and ensuing flood, was so severe we had to abandon the visit as the water was in places waist high. I bet you remember that Shaver My Boy! Now it is owned by a Swiss craftsman of great repute, who designs and fashions each of his creations 'on site', and uses materials such as Platinum, 24 carat Gold and Tahitian Pearls. Not at all a shopper, I did venture in just to look at the fantastic works of art.

While a little less up-beat, there were some lovely pieces here too.

and the Kitch
Not meant to be derogatory, it's a case of 'horses for courses', but there was nothing in this store with a 4 figure price tag!

and what most of the tourists love.

Finally, the Fish Market

I could lose an hour or two here every day and never get bored.

The watchful eye of the Duty Scavenger.

More 'customers' wait their turn.

The Fish Monger's little helper.