• Day53

    Galapagos - Isla Santa Cruz

    February 25 in Ecuador ⋅ ⛅ 79 °F

    We took a really nice high speed ferry to Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz. It had four 300 HP engines and scooted us right along. Our hotel was about a mile out of town up a hill, but it had a really nice pool and the taxis here are super cheap, $1.50 per ride, not person. And they also were relatively new pickups. We checked in early and went swimming right away. That was a weird business plan at the Desconso del Guia: build a really nice hotel on the biggest hill in town and disregard that you can barely see the sea, are surrounded by slummy houses and the power plant. But we didn't mind. We read the reviews and the pool was worth it. Besides, there aren't any dangerous areas on these islands, it's just that people can't afford to live in the touristy areas and can't afford to build a house all at one time. They buy bricks when they can and put their houses together piecemeal in many places like this.

    There's wifi in each restaurant and hotel on these islands, but it's incredibly slow and there's no way to upload photos or videos until back on the mainland. That's why these Galapagos posts are posted so late. It took me awhile to stop trying to upload the photos. I thought they might upload at night, to no avail. One sign at a hotel said "The wifi is slow, but you have the internet and you ARE in the middle of the ocean. "nuff said.

    We walked arount the town and were surprised at how big it is. Wow. There's 20,000 people that LIVE here. That's not counting the tourists, which must at least double that on any given day. My, how things have changed in the last 20 years. After the recovery of the market downturn in about 2010, tourism here skyrocketed, according to one guide. At one pier, we saw a guy cleaning fish and he had about 5 species of beggars waiting for scraps, including the Frigates stealing from a Sea Lion. Check it out here.

    Kiosko street was where we ate a lot.  Set lunches (Almuerzos) were $5 and most were pretty good, including great soups.  We went back for dinner twice and had 2-3 set lunches on this street where you sit outside. There are about 15 or more kiosk restaurants and they put the tables in the streets. The best part was Happy Hour, which seemed to be all day. Drinks were 2 for $8 or 3 for $10.  When we saw the “Saltamontes” I had to look it up. They’re Grasshoppers, a classic Wisconsin digestif. We ordered them 2 nights in a row.

    You can choose your own fish here and Deanne told me about looking for the clear eyes on the fish.  Many were cloudy. We had a delicious Bruja (Scorpionfish) which seems to be the most popular type of fish. Worst mistake many times was the BlueFin or at least that's what they’re calling it. I got duped 3 times into eating this rubber/hard crappy fish. We’ve decided not to get any fish from the menu del dia because it’s usually this chewy crap.

    In the morning, we hiked to Las Grietas, a series of natural pools that connect to the sea underground. On the walk, you go through a desert like area of cacti and you see lots of Marine Iguanas and finches. The first pool is crowded with people but we brought snorkels and swam out to the 2nd pool and from there you can climb over sharp lava rocks or dive about 4 feet under some rocks to get to the 3rd pool. Few tourists do this and luckily, the couple from Quito we met told us about the "hidden" 3rd pool. The pools are about 10 meters wide and 15 meters deep. The water is crystal clear and you can see lots of large fish. There's a trail above that follows the pools and you can see the fish from up above also.

    Puerto Ayora was packed with middle and upper class Ecuadorians for Carnival. That was nice to see because I don't think there were many Ecuadorians that could afford this just a decade or two ago. There was a DJ each night in the Malecon, but there was a LOT of people just standing around and there wasn't much action.

    On the next day, we went to another Tortuga sanctuary at the Darwin station. This is a reseach and tourist area that was instrumental in starting a breeding program for the tortoises. There were great displays and it was very informative. On the way in, a security guard motioned us towards a desk. We usually have to sign in at National Park sites, but this was a tour guide with a schpeel and he pretended to be part of the park. I knew it was free and he finally admitted he was a private tour guide. Lame! Watch out for that stuff. He must have paid the guard to motion people over and a lot probably got suckered. The signs explaining things were everywhere and in English, so no guide was necessary. A romanian guy named Jonuts was with us and we became fast friends after that. We kept running into him on this and the next island.

    On the way out, we noticed constructions workers feverishly finishing up a nice building. Apparently, the 7th Day Adventists are building a Creation Museum right next to the Darwin Institute! I can only imagine the pack of lies that will await inside. (side note: 5 days later it opened and they had a big opening gala for churchmembers only, complete with people in tortoise outfits.) I tried to get in, but they wouldn't let me.

    Later, we spent the day at Tortuga Bay and ran into Jonuts again. It is a beautiful, LONG beach but the snorkeling was bad.  And it was HOT! But it was a great dayn nonetheless. A bad snorkeling day at a Galapagos beach is better than a good day at the office, I always say. We also met some Canadians there and chatted with them a bit. There are lots of Canadians here.

    After our 2nd day, we were a little restless. This was the most crowded island and most people take boats to leave it, including to Kicker Rock or Cristobal or Isabella islands. There really isn't a whole lot here for more than 2 days and we feel like we booked one or two nights too many here.  But hey, it's still paradise and just being able to walk around and see giant tortoises and funky iguanas isn't half bad.

    We decided not to pay for a tour of a lava rocks field because the tour/taxi was in the $40-$50 range and included more Tortugas. We’re so lame, we’re already like “nah, seen em before and it’s not worth it.” We bought a round trip ferry ticket to Isabella and back and booked one last night here in Puerto Ayora because we have an early flight back to Guayaquil on Sunday.  

    All in all, we liked the island because the Malecon is nice and there are a ton of restaurants. Kiosko street is fun, but as far as wildlife, you’re better off on the other islands.

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