Thursday 21/7/05 (Paul writes...)
The 2 hour flight from Guayaquil to San Cristobel was full of expectation. Most people on the flight were heading for several days aboard a boat of some description, traveling around the Galapagos Islands, and not many of us knew fully what to expect, but the excitement on the plane was mounting.
We had been given a small sticker with a picture of the Darwin Yacht, our boat, on it, to help the guide at the airport identify his new customers. I had proudly put my sticker on at the airport, and a number of people had pointed at it and said "We're on that boat as well". Where's your sticker then, I was tempted to say, but held back, didn't want to start on the wrong foot.
San Cristobel was not supposed to have been our first stop in the islands. Baltra airport is the normal arrival point for boat tours, but they have been carrying out repairs to that airport, and they had overrun their estimated completion time by more than a month, so the itineraries of everybody's tours, including ours, had to be adjusted to start and end in San Cristobel.
The first task once in the arrivals hall was to be relieved of US$100 cash, in return for a small entry ticket to the Parque Nacional Galapagos, hardly a fair swap, I thought. The girl behind the counter viewed my crisp $100 bill with suspicion. "Its okay" I assured her, "I only printed it this morning so I know it's not a fake". Good job she didn't speak much English.
We had packed light and only had carry on luggage, so while everybody else waited for their luggage to arrive on the carrousel, we were the first from our boat to be greeted by our guide, Morris. We waited in a corner for the rest of the passengers for our boat, who came out in dribs and drabs.
When we were all assembled, 16 in all, the luggage was put in the back of a pickup and we all (somehow) managed to get into a minibus for the short trip down to the dock.
From the dock, I could see our boat, the Darwin Yacht, anchored a few hundred meters from the dock. Rita says it's called the Darwin Yacht because it is the original boat that Darwin explored the Galapagos Islands in. I wasn't completely convinced, as I thought I had read somewhere that it had been the Beagle that he had sailed around in, but Rita said that was just an urban myth, so I guess it must be true. We're going to be sailing on THE Darwin Yacht! How exciting! I think.
We were transferred out to THE Darwin Yacht by a rubber dinghy with an outboard engine, eight people at a time. Seemed a little overloaded to me, but this was to be our method of transferring to and from the THE Darwin Yacht (okay, I'll stop emphasizing THE from now on) for the rest of our five days aboard.
Once everybody was aboard, we had a brief meeting to discuss the itinerary for the rest of the day, then we were assigned our cabins. We were allocated cabin number (lucky) 7, the only drawback appeared to be that it was right at the back of the boat next to the engine room. Otherwise, it seemed like a nice little cabin, 2 beds in bunk bed format, a small folding table, 2 small and a surprisingly large bathroom with shower unit, wash basin and wc. I must admit, when we booked to go on the boat, the blurb we were given said each cabin was en-suite, my immediate thought was that it would be the size of a small cupboard and you have to sit on the loo while having a shower. But no, I was quite pleasantly surprised.
I was surprised by how large our boat was. We had been worried about it being too small, and everything being really cramped, but there seemed to be plenty of space for the 16 passengers and 6 crew and our guide. The top deck was half open to the sky with several sun loungers dotted around a padded seating areas around the outside. The front of this deck also had wheelhouse and the crew's quarters.
The middle deck (probably not a nautical term, but never mind, eh) had 2 cabins at the front, with a large central room with a communal seating space and a dining area. The lower deck had the remaining 6 cabins.
The first item on the itinerary was lunch. We'd already had a meal on each of the two flights from Quito, (Okay, the "meal" on the first flight was only a bun with a bit of cheese in it, but that counts as a meal on some airlines!) but not knowing when we would next get fed and wanting to see what the cook was like, we thought we had better partake.
Our first meal was fried fish and vegetables. When we'd booked our trip, I'd said No Seafood in the special dietary requirements column, even though I do occasionally eat the occasional fish dish, I thought it easier to say none at all rather than try to put down a list of what type of fish and how it should be cooked. I can be quite fussy at times.
So, having been handed a plate with fish on it, I thought this must be for somebody else, so I explained that I had requested no seafood. The guide seemed quite surprised, and showed me the special dietary requirements list he had been given, and against my name it said "No shell fish". I was taken aback by this, but recovered nicely by showing him the printed form I'd been given that said "No seafood". My plate was removed and returned shortly after with the fish removed and the vegetables spread out more to fill the empty part of the plate. Mmmm. Was this a sign of things to come, only time would tell.
Thinking back now, I'm not sure what else I could have reasonably expected. It appeared I was the only person who didn't want fish, except for one vegetarian, but she seemed happy with her plate of veggies. So I could hardly expect them to rustle up an alternative meat dish especially for me, could I. Could I?
Enough moaning, on with what we came here for. Half an hour from the port, we arrived at Isla Lobos, also known as "Sea Lion Island" with a noisy population of frolicking and barking beasts. It's a small basalt rock island, just off the coast of San Cristobel. We were transferred ashore and led by Morris along a very rough pathway to the sea lion colony. We were able to get quite close to the sea lions, although Morris told us not to touch any, especially the young as this could result in them being abandoned by their mothers. The females and youngsters are very playful, but the males are to be treated with caution. Looking at the size of their teeth, I would certainly not want to get too close to a male of the species.
Also on this small island we saw the bright yellow warblers, quite fearless of us and dashing about the lava rocks, seeking out small bugs. The marine iguanas here were almost totally black, and these didnĂ˘Ââ„˘t seem very active, either, but that may have been to do with the tide being high so they couldn't get to the seaweed they feed on. There were also frigate birds and brown pelicans on the island, by the score.
Back on board the boat, we were served up with a delicious three course dinner, then sailed off towards Isla Espanola.
While we were on the islands, I noticed some distinct differences between the flora and fauna on the different islands, especially the finches and tortoises. I came to realise that this was probably because they had evolved seperately over thousands of years, and had adapted to the specific nature of the island they lived on. Perhaps I could write a book about it. I was quite excited when I worked this out, but when I told Rita about my theory, she said some bloke called Darwin had noticed it before, and he had written a book about it called The Origin of Species, all about his so called theory of evolution.
A little put out but not deterred, it got my mind thinking, and soon my thoughts turned to beer, as it often does. I've noticed differences in varieties of beers from different islands around the world, ranging from the wonderful real ale crafted by the expert hands of master brewers in Enland and endemic to that country, to the almost tasteless, cold, coloured water produced by many countries, known as LAGER.
Its almost as if they have somehow evolved seperately, the LAGER losing its way over the centuries and turning into the vile liquid we know and hate today. I think I could perhaps write a book about how lager has become what it is today, I think I'll call it My Theory of Evil Solutions. How does that sound? Comments to the usual address.