Galapagos travels began with long lines at customs, confusion and frustration about transportation to the island, and awe over the nature surrounding the airport. We landed on a paved runway surrounded by a dry, arid, beautiful and brown environment. The earth was covered with a gray low-growing grass, and bright green cacti punctuating the otherwise dully colored landscape. The winds were strong and cool, but the sun was hot. It felt like I was living in a classic description of “tundra”.
After securing a safe transport to Santa Cruz, I became excited and happy. I stretched my neck to see as much as possible from the back of the airport bus, and through the windows of the ferry. Then, we met Steve, who was our assigned guide of the Galapagos national park.
If I asked you to picture a park tour guide, you’d likely imagine someone who closely resemblance Steve. Steve was born to American parents who relocated to the Galapagos during a trip around the globe. He was raised on the islands, and knows a great deal about its history and environment. His English is flawless, with no trace of a local accent. He wears a canvas-type shirt with the first two buttons undone, and khaki shorts. He is neither tan nor pale, but rather his skin shows signs of spending lots of time in the sun. His voice reminds me of an American accent, and though I can’t place it, I feel that it has some roots in the Northwestern United States. The class is finally alone together and safely contained on our own private shuttle. We relax for the hour bus ride across the island as Steve describes the Archipelago’s history.
Steve, the quintessential nature guide.
When we arrive at the hotel, we only have time to drop off our bags. Then we walk down to the “downtown” area for lunch at Chocolate, a local restaurant. This is the first time we experience Galapagos cuisine, and it’s definitely different. As we wait, Sarah explains that the traditional Galapagos meal consists of juice, a soup, and a main course. Many restaurants choose an almuerzo (lunch) of the day, which usually consists of rice, vegetables or beans, and meat. Today it was rice, French fries, and tuna. I realize that I’ve never had fully cooked tuna except from a can. I devour the soup, the juice, and the meal rather quickly. Sarah also mentions that the juice is very sweet, due to the locals adding lots of sugar to it. “They’ll give you diabetes in three months,” she jokes as she warns us to ask for the sugar on the side.
It’s only lunchtime, and although we’ve been through a lot already the day isn’t over yet. Steve picks us up at Chocolate and leads us to the Charles Darwin Station where there is a turtle breeding center. We walk through the exhibits and he points out different local plants – native and invasive – as well as birds, turtles, iguanas, lizards, and more. He is a wealth of information and a great resource, although every now and then I tend to zone out. Miraculously, he is self-educated. He attended some school on the mainland, but mostly just reads and learned about the island from his parents and other locals. Still, it seems like he knows every scientific name and background of every organism on the island.
When the tour is over, we need a break and congregate at the small pool at our hotel. It’s not very warm, and the garua prevents anyone from wanting to get too wet. It’s a good bonding experience however, and we have a good time before heading out to dinner.
We have a meal of pizza at Dolce Italia, and it’s delicious. I finish my entire pie but my mind is elsewhere, as I can’t seem to find my snorkel and mask. We have a snorkeling trip tomorrow, and I have a looming sensation that I forgot to put them in my suitcase during my packing-unpacking-repacking process. Fortunately for me, I find them later on, and continue the night in a fabulous mood. We walk around the town as a group browsing stores and window shopping, looking for a rental shop for wetsuits, and eventually settle on sitting at a local bar to have a drink. What starts as slightly awkward bonding becomes full-fledged hilarity as when Brian suggests we play “Thumper.” It’s my first time playing, and it takes us all awhile to catch on, but it’s quite a hit. We spend at least an hour trying to perfect our skills and laughing hysterically whenever we mess up. We even pull in one of the waitresses for our final game, since she and her coworkers had been entertained by our antics all night.
The UGapapagos 2014 crew with our new friend Tanya, posing on the left between Ryan and Laura.
I go to bed tired and happy, excited for the next day and for the first time this trip, free of all worry.