Galapagos: the rough guide!

Wed 9 Apr 2008 20:57
Gosh, its been more than two weeks since I wrote. Nothing in life turns out to be just as you expect, and these Islands have proved no exception. My ideas were built up from a book on the geology and biology of the area, a very welcome gift from Vicky, schoolboy knowledge of Darwins adventures on the Beagle, and feedback from conventional European tourists: who fly out from the mainland and embark in mini cruise ships for a trip through the Islands lasting perhaps a week. During this time the boats stop at the biology hot spots, and passengers are ferried ashore in big inflatables where they are escorted by a guide at all times, to land or marine sites of interest. So long as you get a comfortable ship (there are some real wrecks!) this must be very pleasant.
The consequence of this controlled ecotourism is that very few poeple stay in hotels in the three 'Ports' (there are no harbours, just a few slightly sheltered bays, the swells roll in!): Equadorians on their own holidays, backpackers, and surfers (there are world class breaks here, one less than half a mile from my anchor, and don't I feel it some nights!). Sailing boats account for a very small number of visitors, but we do spend more than the backpackers!
Land based tourists have virtually no access to the sites that the tour ships reach, but there are a number of guided visits that can be made to particularly some marine sites, and within walking distance of the Ports are accessible beaches with lots to see. What we sailors do get is a big slice of Island life, and this is very laid back and enjoyable, and very different to life in the Eastern Caribbean, where every sailing boat seems targeted by one and all for every pip that can be squeezed out.
I guess that the Locals here will soon learn, and there is one water taxi driver who insists on charging me twice the normal fare and always manages to scrape my topsides into the bargain: I don't know what I've done to upset him, but it may be that he is annoyed that I have sent Olivia back to the mainland: he used to be friendly to us both, and asked Olivia to go dancing.
Generally Equadorians are lovely poeple: friendly, honest and helpful: life is completely hassle free. My phrase book Spanish receives warm smiles, and everyone tries (in vain) to help my vocabulary along. The tiendas are well stocked, especially after the supply ships come in, but it has taken time to learn where everything is: no neon signs or special offers, and anything perishable is kept in rusty, once white chest freezers.
Found some frozen raw prawns yesterday: loose in a sack in a freezer: nice lady pulled out two handfuls for me. Stir fry in margarine and garlic, fresh bread, tomatoes and beetroot, wonderful. Olivia and I decided to have chicken one night.  Butchers shops have perforated sheet zinc mesh doors to try to keep the flies out, and there is little hung fresh meat, it is all in the chest freezers! We wanted half (medio!) a chicken, he only had whole ones. In a flash he had his bandsaw on, and we had a Damian Hurst half chicken, right through the spine!! On the way back to the boat I was wondering how he sterilised the saw: silly me!!
There is a fun covered fresh produce market where everything seems to cost two dollars no matter how much or little you buy. I suspect they do rip us off a bit, but the fruit and veg are good, and there are no BMW's parked up at the back!
Having Olivia on board for a week was a brilliant surprise, and a very big thankyou to Sue for thinking it up. Her visit was in the nature of a respite from her arduous (!) Gap Year. The days whizzed past and all too soon I was dropping her off at the little passenger ferry on Santa Cruz bound for the little Island of Baltra, destination Quito, where they decided to locate the main airport. The previous night we stayed on Santa Cruz, and splashed out on hotel rooms: unlimited water, hot showers and clean sheets. Bliss, and I think we both scrubbed up quite well.
On our various boat trips, and at the Darwin Research Centre in Santa Cruz we managed to see nearly all the notable animals that you find on the local T shirts (Hannah will have to wait a couple of months to see what I mean). We missed out on Galagagos Penguins and also flamingoes, but hey, you can see those at Slimbridge! Highlight was swimming with baby sealions, we also found four big turtles in a lagoon two miles hike from here, and we both saw sharks on our snorkeling trips. Giant tortoises are giant, but otherwise just like the ones we grew up with, tethered by string in our gardens! Blue footed boobies are odd and cute, and male frigate birds, huge pumped up red breasts, are real dandies.
Olivia and I compared reading material: She had Random acts of love, Danny Scheinman, I have hugely enjoyed Love in the time of cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This was written years after his Nobel prize, when he was about sixty. Olivia knew this book, and feigned (?!) mild disgust: 'Dad, it's about old poeple, even older than you.' She left me Random Acts: turns out it is about a girl killed on a bus trip through Equador!!!!
Since Olivia left I have been getting ready for the next three thousand miles to the Marquesas. Everything: fresh water, diesel has to be ferried out to the boat in small quantities, and of course everything comes at least a day after it is promised. It is thirsty work, and I am well known in the Casa Blanca!
I rented a mountain bike to the 'highlands': very hard work in the heat, but a sensational 15 km run downhill back to the Port, with no brakes. No wonder I had to stop for breath several times on the way up, you lose perspective on a continuous climb, also you don't need to test the brakes, going uphill!  Reason was to pick some wildflowers for my painting, trouble was they wilt like crazy, and you have to paint back on the boat, out of the sun, so there are no interesting shadows.
It was great to get a phone call yesterday from Conny and Hannah who were in a coffee bar in Hamburg. I do hope that they have a well learned rest from school and work, and of course I do miss them, and love them dearly. Hannah has been on a school skiing trip: carbon footprints everywhere like there is no tomorrow, and if the US economy slips much further, perhaps there won't be! Looking forward to seeing Vicky who joins me in the Marquesas, and feel very sorry for Charlie who has her nose to the grindstone, I hope!
No more long blogs, as we will be back on ships email now. Love and best wishes to all, from what the locals call their village: the Captial of Paradise,