21 February 2012 | Bahia Baquerizo Moreno, Isla San Cristobal, Galapagos, Ecuador
Within an hour of getting to San Cristobal, our boat was boarded by four customs, immigration, health and tourism officials along with our hired agent representative. Our agent worked with us to develop our travel plan and logged this plan with the authorities. The health agent inspected every drawer and cabinet in the galley of the boat. They confiscated our oranges but there were no other issues. They are concerned about fruit flies entering the islands. The inspection lasted about 30 minutes and saved us hours of time if we had to individually visit each authority ourselves. Being part of the World ARC certainly has its benefits when entering places with complicated traveling issues. It is essential to have an agent representative to organize the officials and cut through the red tape. If not, it can take days to check into the Galapagos and you have to stay on the boat until the process is completed. We met some other boaters who can attest to this.
We suggest you Google the Galapagos for more info but these islands are made from volcanoes and have an abundant and diverse animal population. Unless you have been here it is hard to describe. The islands were discovered in 1835 when the young scientist, Charles Darwin, arrived aboard the HMS Beagle. After returning to England he later published his evolution theory based on natural selection which he based on many of the samples he took back with him from the Galapagos Islands.
The authorities are very concerned about controlling the impact of tourism on the ecology while maintaining an adequate economy for the local population. Gas is subsidized on the island to the locals at $1 per gallon. We pay $5. On many of the islands a non-residents cannot buy gas. There are 8 major islands in the Galapagos. Only 4 are inhabited and can be visited by boaters and you can leave your boat at only one port on each of those islands. Your travel from island to island is closely monitored by the customs officials and you have to file a travel plan with them and check in and out of each island with the port captain to get a clearance form called a Zarpe allowing you to go to the next port. You must also purchase a tourist permit for $110/person to visit any of the national parks. And all the sites to be seen are national parks. In addition, you must hire a nationally certified guide and arrange for transportation to visit many of the sites. The cost of most of the tours can be $50 to $100 per person.
There are sea lions and iguanas all over town in San Cristobal. You have to watch where you sit because the sea lions leave a mess or you may be under a pelican sitting on an arch or tree who could mess on you. Many of the World Arc boats had close encounters with sea lions. Most days we had one or two on our swim platform. One boat had seven in their cockpit one morning while another had two on their bimini. It was interesting to see the methods people used to deter the sea lions. Chairs were common tools used to block access.
While we were in San Cristobal we took several tours to see the sights of the island. We took a trip to five finger rock which is a frigate bird colony, then snorkeled in Isla Lobos bay with sea lions, sea turtles, iguanas, and sea rays and then snorkeled at Kicker Rock with sharks. And when we say we snorkeled with these animals we mean that they were often less than five feet away from us. The small sea lions were particularly fun because you almost felt like they were playing with you. Mark did get a little too close to one large adult sea lion who did not want to play but rather wanted to move Mark along and move Mark did - rather quickly.
Another day we took two cabs with 14 people total from the World Arc to visit the volcano and the tortoise breeding center. The Galapagos have quite a few tortoise breeding centers as a result of the tortoises almost being brought to the point of extinction on the island. Unfortunately, it was a rainy day near the volcano and we all got soaking wet (the taxis were pickup trucks and half of us were in the back of the truck). We visited the tortoise farm in the pouring rain which caused the tortoises to go and hide. We did get brought to a local family's farm, Comedor La Amancay, for lunch by our taxi drivers and had a very fresh meal made only from things they produced on the farm. They only served meals on Sundays and catered to family gatherings of the local people. They were thrilled to have "tourists" join them. The food was delicious and many of us ate several things that we had never eaten before. It was an incredible experience. When we got back to the boat, we discovered that it had never rained at the boat while we had spent the entire tour in the pouring rain.
We tried desperately to get internet access throughout our stay in San Cristobal but we were very unsuccessful. We would get internet for a few minutes and then lose it despite sitting in what was called an internet café. It was terribly frustrating. I continue to eat a lot of fish and I am actually getting to the point of enjoying it. Mark has improved his Spanish speaking immensely because he has been getting a lot of practice repeating phrases over and over everywhere we go.
Dos grande cervesas por favor!!
We tried to leave San Cristobal on Monday but had difficulty picking up our laundry. Most of the stores are closed for siesta from 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm. Also, while we were in San Cristobal they had their annual celebration of their independence from Columbia which lasted for three days during which time many stores, banks and other services were closed. This gave a whole new meaning to the term "island time."
We finally did leave on Tuesday 2/21 for a 60 nm trip to Floreana. There was no wind and we motored the entire way there. We arrived as the sun was starting to go down with plans to stay overnight and head to Isabella the next morning. Mark had quite a shock in the morning when he found a rather large sea lion in our cockpit. For some reason we had dismantled our sea lion deterrent system which was basically multiple fenders on the swim platform and across the steps onto the back of the boat. Well, sea lions are smelly and messy and they shed worse than any dog. Mark spent much of the morning cleaning up sea lion hair and sea lion oil off the cushions in the cockpit and the deck. As a result of this, Mark no longer cares how cute I think the sea lions are they are not welcome on our boat at all!
We have posted more pictures of the passage to the Galapagos and our time in San Cristobal on the photo gallery.