Galapagos, Part 1 – We Have Arrived

The flight to the Galapagos Islands was fairly uneventful, if you don’t count the part where it cost us an arm and a leg. Our plane tickets were $420 each, which did NOT include the $110 of fees for the Galapagos National Park, which everyone is required to pay. One of the reasons for the relatively high price of the plane tickets was that June-September is the high season here. We’re lucky we’re even here in mid-June, as prices for tours, rentals, and perhaps even eating out, will steadily increase in the next few weeks.

Marine Iguana – The most magical animal on the Galapagos.

We’re quite pleased with our accommodations at Los Amigos hostel in Puerto Ayora–$25/night for a private room (shared bath)–as it’s only $5 more than our allotted daily Ecuador accommodation budget. Hopefully we won’t end up spending much more in the Galapagos as we would have out of it.

One of the first issues we’ve come across is the sheer number of activities that are offered here. I suppose it’s not a surprise, but it does make it difficult to decide exactly what we should be doing. Tourist agencies have huge signs that advertise 4 to 8-day cruises around the islands, day trips, and guided tours. But the good thing about wanting to do as many things as we can for free, is that it certainly limits our choices. Luckily, there are lots of activities, such as what we did today–visiting Tortuga Bay–that can be done for only the cost of snorkeling equipment.
Tortuga Bay is only a 45 minute walk from town through a cactus forest. Its turquoise waters and white sand beaches could have been in a Corona commercial–that’s how seemingly perfectly tropical and Caribbean-esque it all was. Unfortunately, the morning clouds (garúa) never went away, but it was still warm enough to swim without our teeth chattering.

Mangrove trees and two pelicans.

We walked through a colony of marine iguanas at the end of the bay to get to Playa Mansa, which was a small mangrove-enclosed beach just past Tortuga Bay. We were expecting to be able to see quite a lot, but we ran into some bad luck with the water visibility, which was about zero. I could only just make out my feet if I looked straight down through my snorkel goggles. Barely visible through the murky water, were some white-finned sharks, a manta ray, and some tropical fish, but we were otherwise fairly disappointed with what we could see.
After realizing the snorkeling wasn’t going to get any better, we headed back to Tortuga Bay and the marine iguanas. These are possibly my favorite animals of all time. We could make them out, swimming towards the beach from wherever they were feeding (on underwater seaweed), slowly making their way through the waves to shore. They’re quite large, up to three feet in length including the tail, and once they arrive to shore, they splay out in truly lazy fashion to dry out. I resisted the overwhelming urge to pet them, and had to resign myself to taking pictures. Perhaps I can sneak in a poke at some point… I just want to see how they feel! And they’re soooooo CUTE!

How much freaking cuter can you get?? Can’t they bend the rules for a true marine iguana lover and let me HUG one?

As I scanned the waves for any more marine iguanas swimming up, I saw something pop its head out of the water… something that was NOT a marine iguana.
“What was that??” I ran out into the waves. Craig, who was a little more sensitive to the water temperature hung back, so he didn’t get a good glimpse of the SEA TURTLE! It was a really surreal moment… I’m hoping that wasn’t the last time we get to see one, since it was just a glimpse, but I felt a deep thrill all the same. One of the main reasons for coming to the Galapagos is for the chance to see some truly amazing wildlife up close and personal, so even though our snorkel equipment didn’t afford us much to see in the water, we at least can always count on the marine iguanas, pelicans, blue-footed boobies, herons, and finches.

Me and the shadow that is the sea turtle.

Thus our first day was both a disappointment and an awesome reminder of all we can hope to see in our remaining 2 weeks here. I just hope it’s enough time to cram it all in!

Craig with Tortuga Bay as the backdrop.

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