Oh My Galápagosh!

Yes, the Galápagos was so incredible that it warrants 4 – yes four – posts! Fourmidable! How fourtunate!

Four the love of God….

First, a few reflections on why Galápagos is such a special place. Then, if anyone is interested, I’ll post the day-by-day itinerary and how we found and booked it. Finally, there’s an alternative ‘Man Baby’ blog… the itinerary in the life of another Encantada (our boat) cruiser.

So, why is Galápagos a special place to visit?

1. Remoteness

You fly out from Guayaquil across the sea, for a couple of hours. Just sea. A lot of sea.

You land precisely on a tiny island in the middle of the vast ocean, and step off the plane into a desert. Rock, dirt and cacti in +35 degree heat. This place has driven men mad. It used to be an American military base purposed with protecting Panama. Protection was never actually needed, but many a military man has spent weeks and months on the barren, flat land rising from the azure sea… drinking themselves into coping.

All this, of course, just adds to your sense of adventure.

2. Flora and Fauna Continue reading

Diary of a Man Baby – 43 and 3/4s

12th February 2015

I have a flight at 7.05am from Quito to Galápagos. I see a massive queue lining up to pay the tax and have their bags checked for plants/animals/contaminants, so I reckon I’ll queue jump… I don’t like to have to wait, especially when I have a flight to catch. I get up to the counter ahead of everyone in the queue. Bingo.

I see most of these people on the same flight as me.

13th February 2015

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A Lap of Galápagos

Here’s the run-down on our lap of the Galáp.

SANTA CRUZ

After flying into Baltra, having your bags sniffed by dogs for contaminants (foreign plants/animals), declaring your pepper, curry powder and maggi stock cubes in case the dog finds you, you take a little ferry over to Santa Cruz and you can grab a bus for $2 down to Puerto Ayora – the main town. We stayed at Gloriá Galápagos, just a few mins from the centre of Puerto Ayora. Huge room, no safe, and wifi only in 2 specific spots.. much to the delight of a cleaner who accidentally opened our door whilst Jim was standing in a tight corner using his phone without the encumbrance of clothes.

Spent the first day at the Darwin Centre and Playa Estación – looking at giant land tortoises and land iguanas in breeding programmes, and marine iguanas at the beach. They stink, poo on each other and look like devils, but it’s interesting to see them swim and nest, and generally stare at you. Slept a lot in the afternoon.

“Oh dear, it appears I’ve been asleep for most of Valentines day.”
“And that’s the greatest gift you could have given me.”

Spent another day at Tortuga Bay – about a 40min walk away – a huge, long white sand beach with surfing waves and marine iguanas, and a little bay at the end where we swam and read.

On our final day we walked to Las Grietas – a water taxi and 30min walk – an amazing cavern between volcanic walls that’s filled with water but cut off from the sea. It has huge parrot fish and eels in it that were deposited as eggs but cannot escape as adults, interesting snorkeling but very busy.

Every evening during our stay there was Carnival – children’s bike parade, live music, fashion show, the crowning of the islands Queen, kids throwing water bombs and spraying ‘espuma de carnival’ at each other, the adults dancing and drinking. Every morning around 7am I’d see revellers walking home with their shoes off – they know how to party!

“There is a Miss Galapagos competition, alongside a wood modelling display at the same time. A bit ironic.”
“Hope your wood isn’t on display”
“It came second”
“There’s a change you old romantic”
“It’s that time of year”

CRUISE ON ENCANTADA

In this photo above, we did a route from the central island (Santa Cruz) down and around the sea-horse shaped island (Isabela) to the left.

Day One

Picked up at the airport on Baltra and taken to the boat. Lunch (tuna soup with potatoes, croutons and rice) and shown to our cabins. Great – bunk beds, wardrobe, bathroom with shower, air con. Different class to the San Blas boat!

Sailed to Cerro Dragon (Dragon Hill) where we did a walk and saw Marine & Land Iguanas. Also passed by a salt pool and 2 flamingoes (there are only 400 in Galápagos) – very lucky. Lots of Opuntia cacti which the Land Iguanas and Donkeys (introduced) rely on for food. On some islands without tortoises, iguanas or donkeys, the Opuntia does not have spikes – it had to evolve them to protect itself.

Dinner was chicken in sauce with beans and sweetcorn, and afterwards we watched a Galápagos shark (about 6ft, can be dangerous) looking for the needle fish that were attracted to the light of the boat. As the boat took off we had a sea lion swimming alongside for ages – incredibly fast, like a torpedo, and you can’t work out how they are propelling themselves, they don’t seem to move anything. We also had a nocturnal gull flying alongside the boat.

Great first day spotting!

 

Day Two

Overnight sail to Villamil town on Isabela, but everyone slept well. There were a number of other boats around – a popular stop for cruises and day trippers.

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Booking a Last Minute Galápagos Cruise

So, adventure seekers… here’s how we planned our time on the islands.

We flew into Quito on the 8th Feb, a Sunday. We hadn’t done any research but had designs on an 8-day Galápagos cruise. Our first day was pretty much “internetting” at Posada Tambuca (a friendly family-run hostel just a 5min walk from Plaza Foche where a lot of the last minute agencies are based).  Turns out there is a LOT to consider – length of cruise, the type of boat, the actual boat (there are 120), the itinerary, are flights included, how much is snorkel gear rental etc. You could spend months researching.

Here’s how I recommend you approach the task for a quick result:

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Alpacking Light

I know that we aren’t packing for the same type of travel, but for all those Peru Packers out there (aka The Pennies), I thought it might be useful to explain what I’m travelling with. It will take too long to describe Jim, so here’s my other companion…

55L Osprey Farpoint Backpack. It is about 18kg in total (13kg main, 5kg cabin bag).

The Farpoint is a 40L main pack, and 15L detachable daypack. They zip together as one luggage item if necessary, but its easier on my back to carry them as two (they fix on front and back). The zip of the main pack opens up entirely like a suitcase (no annoying small hole at the top of a tube).

Me and the Pack

Me and the Pack

Clothes are packed using Packmate vacuum packs (1 small, 2 medium and 1 large); you roll them to expel the air and pack more tightly, plus they keep everything dry.

EVERYTHING else is in large ziplock bags, it is a massive pain if things get wet.

And in the packs we have….
Tech
  • Kindle + USB charger
  • Mobile Phone / Camera + USB charger with plug
  • 11″ MackBook Air Laptop + cable/plug
  • 1 plug converter
  • Headphones
  • Headphone converter for plane
  • Selfie stick
  • Headtorch (Petzel Tikkina)
  • Chip & pin device for online banking
     Don’t use
  • iPod shuffle and charger
Day Bag
  • Fake wallet with $20 in it
  • Cotton bag which zips closed
  • Wet Wipes
  • Pocket Sun Cream
  • Small hand sanitiser
  • Insect Repellent x 3
  • Tissues
  • Pens (biros/art)
  • Pencils
  • Notebook
  • Print outs of important numbers, copies of passport, insurance details
  • Passports
  • Immunisation certificate
  • 1 credit card
  • 2 debit cards
  • Exped Large dry bag: one fits all my tech inside
  • Beechfield Classic Army Cap
  • Sunglasses
  • Hair bands
  • Chewing gum
     Don’t use
  • Money belt
  • Little wallet
  • Phrase book
First Aid
  • Latex gloves
  • Plasters
  • Blister plasters
  • Scissors
  • Sterile gauze
  • Micro-bandage
  • Tape for bandage
  • Anti-bacterial foam
  • Anti-bacterial gel (Germolene)
  • Medicated wound wipes
  • Elastic band
Meds
  • Malaria meds (doxycycline)
  • Hydro-cortisone cream
  • Dioralyte
  • Cold + Flu
  • Paracetamol
  • Seasickness
  • 2 types of antihistamine
  • Cough sweets
  • Prescription meds
  • Water purification tablets
  • Thrush tablets (apparently malaria meds can increase likelihood of this!)
*obviously we don’t use some of the First Aid and Meds, but we need to pack them all the same
Toiletries
  • Toothpaste
  • Shampoo / Conditioner
  • Suncream (2 factors)
  • After Sun
  • Back up large pack tissues
  • Boots No 7 Moisturiser
  • Small perfume dispensers (have 3, hardly use)
  • Cotton buds
  • Hair dye (at various points)
  • Dental floss
  • Deodorant
  • Make up (mascara, lipstick, touché éclat, concealer)
  • Small eye make-up remover
  • Few cotton pads
  • Tweezers
  • Nail clippers
  • Nail file
  • Razor + couple of blades
  • Foot scrubber
  • Exfoliating mit
  • Tampons
  • Small brush for applying hair dye
  • Mini-magnifying mirror
  • Travel hair brush
     Don’t use
  • intensive moisturiser for dry skin (don’t need in hot climates)
  • lip salve with SPF (never remember it)
  • ear plugs (I can sleep through anything, it seems)
Footwear
  • flip-flops
  • lightweight trail-runners (New Balance Minimus 10v2 Trail)
  • rubber “Natives” (look like converse, amazing in a raft or in the rain!)
Random
  • Beach blanket (cotton)
  • Lightweight sport towel
  • 2 belts
  • Combination lock for backpack
  • Pepper, curry powder and stock cubes
  • Small tube of handwash gel
  • Snorkel mask
  • Snorkel tube
  • Old watch
  • Pack of cards
     Don’t use
  • Lifeventure treated silk sleeping bag liner
  • Platypus water bladder
  • Platypus fold-down water bottle (1.5L)
  • Small dry bag
Underwear
  • 6 pairs of socks (2 inner hiking, 1 hiking, 3 short black)
  • 5 pants
  • 1 sports bra
  • 1 normal bra (almost in shreds from dryers)
Swimming
  • 2  Bikini bandeau tops
  • 1 bikini bottoms
  • Swimming costume
     Don’t Use
  • Sarong
Shorts
  • 3 (denim, slouchy, running)
Trousers
  • 2 light-weight beach pants
  • 1 quick dry sport trouser
  • 2 black leggings
  • 1 jeans
Skirt
     Don’t use
  • 1 skirt!
Tops
  • 3 uni-qlo jersey vest tops
  • 2 heat tech uni-qlo base layer tops
  • 1 spaghetti strap vest top
  • 2 black sheer vest tops
     Don’t use
  • 1 moisture wicking moreno wool vest top
  • 1 tie-dye top I bought at Chichen Itza that bleeds dye so I can’t wash it, & it smells – but I like it!
  • 2 smart sheer vest-tops (maybe in Peru on a special occasion?)
Shirts
  • 1 denim with popper pockets
  • 1 jack wolfskin moisture wicking lumberjack shirt with buttoned pockets
Jackets
  • Berghaus micro fleece with zip pockets
  • Uni Qlo down jacket (folds up really small) with zip pockets
  • Muji rain poncho with hood

The only things I’m considering buying are some gloves and warm hat in Peru at high altitude.

And that folks is all you need to live.

Apart from the back up mobile charger, the external hard drive, the pen knife and the washing line that Jim packs in his luggage.

Colombia in 3 Moves

1. Pretty Cartagena

Off the boat and on to dry land at Cartagena.

We followed Dónal and Rebecca to Casa Carmen just off the main track (Media Luna) in Getsemaní, and luckily there was a spare room for us. Getsemaní was once a no-go area but is now a flurry of bars, restaurants, boutique hotels and hostels. Its walking distance to the historic centre within the old city walls, and sits between it and the San Felipe de Barajas fort.

We met some others from the boat and wandered into the old town, sitting on the city wall to admire the sunset and then heading out for dinner.

The centre is idyllic for leisurely strolling in the hot & humid weather…. Continue reading