Ecuador – The Galapagos Islands

Ecuador – The Galapagos Islands

The Galápagos Islands are a small group of islands some 1000 km West of Ecuador. The archipelago, consisting of 13 major islands, is one of Ecuador’s 21 provinces and lies on the equator. It was uninhabited until it was discovered by the Spanish in 1535. A lot has happened since then. It was used as a hideout for British pirates who had their eyes on the Spanish fleets and their treasures. Whalers used it as a base and they slaughtered many of the giant tortoises, almost to extinction, for their meat and fat which was used to make oil. Charles Darwin came to visit the islands, for no longer than 5 weeks, to study the unique flora and fauna. His observations eventually led him to his theory of evolution. But this rich and unique flora and fauna really got endangered by the plants and animals that were introduced by man. Cows and goats have changed the natural habitat on many islands making it impossible for the giant tortoises to survive. Feral dogs and cats have killed complete iguana populations. Sharks are illegally fished within the marine reserve for their fins. Then there’s tourism. Once a sea lion pup is petted by a human, they will be rejected by their mom and they will quickly starve to death. The pups look incredibly cute and many visitors simply cannot resist. Luckily the archipelago is now a national park and the Charles Darwin Foundation is doing a great job protecting the wildlife. Unfortunately out of the $100 entrance fee to the park, only $5 makes it to the foundation which is simply not enough. Where does the rest go? A little bit goes to the national park organization but it appears that over 80% of their employees sit behind a desk so the number of park rangers working in the field is very very small. In fact, during our stay we haven’t seen even a single park ranger on any of the islands. The rest of the money goes to the local community and navy. There are rumours that the entrance fee will be raised to $200 soon to limit the number of visitors to the park. Other rumours say that the maximum number of cruise ships (now 94) will be increased soon to allow for more visitors to the park…

Even though the water temperature was pretty low at times (17 dgrs Celsius) we had two very nice dive days. The hammerheads and other sharks, rays and playful sea lions made them unforgettable. We were very happy. Until we were picked up to embark on the cruise ship that would take us around the archipelago for the next 8 days. “No, this can’t be our boat.. Is it really? No way..”. That were basically our thoughts when we arrived at the Flamingo. It didn’t even look like the boat in the pictures we saw when we booked the tour. And it seemed so much smaller. Oh well, how bad can it be… The converted fishing boat takes up to 10 passengers and has a crew of 5 plus one official guide. We were assigned the smallest cabin which was no more than a closet. It was hot and humid and had no space for our luggage. There was no air conditioning (as promised by the brochure) and only cold water. All the other passengers were as shocked as we were although some of the cabins were much bigger than ours. We managed to survive sleeping in our closet for three nights. The next day two of the guests would be disembarking and we smelled our chance to change to the bigger cabin. That wasn’t a problem, according to the guide. But it was according to the captain when we started to move our things. We really didn’t want to spend another night in the ‘coffin’ so we were seriously thinking about leaving the ship there and then. Even though that would be an enormous waste of money and a big disappointment as we wouldn’t be able to finish the tour. We thought we finally had convinced the captain, even shook hands with him, but when the new guests arrived we were told to move back to the old cabin. Oh no…. That unreliable piece of &*(% calling himself captain. Luckily the new Spanish couple decided, God knows why, to take the small cabin so we could spend the last four nights in relative luxury (although the bigger cabin was far noisier than the small one…). Pfew…

The cruise is a really nice way to discover a number of the islands. You go on land once or twice a day and in between you can swim and snorkel. The food was excellent (two warm meals per day!) and even though the boat was slow (and very very noisy), it was nice to be on the water. The visits to the islands are fantastic. The animals are unique and most of them seem to have no fear of human beings. The sea lions are curious and let you walk among them. They even come and play with you while snorkeling or diving. The iguanas go about their business as if you’re not there. They might even run over your shoes while chasing each other. The blue footed booby birds are not bothered by 11 people standing just a few meters away and carry on doing their mating ritual. But, it has to be said; after 8 days you have seen more than enough iguanas, sea lions, rays, sea turtles, frigate birds and boobies. And you wonder: was it worth the trouble, time and money (as it is far away and really, really expensive)? Aren’t the Galápagos heavily overhyped? Maybe they are but you shouldn’t forget that there’s no other place in the world where you can have this kind of wildlife experience which was absolutely unique and truly awesome.

Giant Tortoise Male sea lions Land iguana

About Erwin

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One Comment

  • Anders

    Hi Erwin & Miek

    Wow – what a nice website. We are impressed and wish we could make something like this, but we are just far too lazy :-).

    It was a very strange feeling when you all left for the airport, and we were all by ourselves in Puerto Ayora. After eight days of very nice company on the boat it felt a little empty to be the only ones to stay. And P.A. does not have that much to offer.

    Now we are in Lima and can’t wait to see Cuzco.

    Take care

    Anders & Pi

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