Confusion in paradise

Feb 12, 2012

I arrived at the airport in The Galapagos Islands, stepped off the plane into sunshine and 27 degrees. I was instantly sweating, but didn’t mind one bit! We walked from the plane to the airport where there are signs to break arrivals into three groups. 1 – for people who live in the Galapagos, 2 – for nationals, people from Ecuador, 3 – Foreigners. It was quite funny to look at the three areas, it felt a little like segregation. I know they do this specifically because of the tourist cards and park entrance fees that you have to pay, but it was still funny to see 75 white people in one line and then two lines with 15 Ecuadorian’s in the other lines.

Thanks to Deanna, I was well prepared for when I landed. She had purchased my tourist ticket for me, and then advised that I fill it out on the plane. SO MANY tourists either didn’t have a tourist card, or they hadn’t yet filled it out. The sucky part was that I was ready to mosey on through, but I was at the back of the line, waiting for each person to be told the same thing … you need a tourist card filled out. Maybe they should make a fourth line – one for people who are supposed to have a tourist card but don’t.

Once I got to the front of the line, I had no problems as my tourist card was all ready for the officials. I paid my $100 park entry fee and went to collect my baggage. And then the real fun began!

Outside of the baggage area there were three men standing with signs waiting for specific tourists. None of the signs said Shari Tucker. I knew pretty quickly that something wasn’t quite right. However, I looked around the rest of the small airport to see if I could spot a sign with my name, an information booth or anyone who had either a Bamba Experience shirt on, or a Bamba logo on their sign. No luck.

I approached the men with signs, as I was one of the last people to leave the baggage area and yet three of them were still standing there. None of them spoke English. One of them had a sign that said Hotel Crossman x 1. This man tried to help me, but really didn’t understand English. I think I told him ‘agencia Bamba Experience’ but he didn’t know what that meant. I got my paperwork out and showed him, but all of my papers are written in English, for me to understand! This lovely man wanted to help and really wanted me to be the one for Hotel Crossman!

I tried to explain that I didn’t know what hotel I was staying at. Rose, at the Adventure Travel Company had been trying to reach Bamba the week before I left to get the name of my hotel in Galapagos, but hadn’t had any luck. I wasn’t particularly worried about it, because I assumed they would have signs with my name and all would be good. Not the case!

I finally found the emergency phone number Cristian (my first driver in Quito) had provided me with. I gave it to the man with the Hotel Crossman sign and he called. When he started talking to someone, I figured it would all get sorted out. Phew! Um, no, not the case. The Emergency number was for a Quito office and they advised him that because I was in the Galapagos they couldn’t help him. Now, I’m not sure that it was said quite like that, but in the end, the emergency number didn’t help any. Of course, most travel companies are closed on Sunday.

Next thing I knew, this guy was telling me to come quickly and get on a big tour bus. I hesitated and wondered if I should stay at the airport, but he seemed like he was trying to help me and I thought if worst came to worst, he would just take me into Puerto Ayora and we could hopefully sort it out there. I figured the tour bus transportation option was better than being left at the airport alone!

The bus took us about five minutes away along a narrow, bumpy road, down a steep and curvy road to a small ferry dock. We all piled off the bus (luggage all in tow) and he put my ruck sack ON TOP of the ferry. Really? Luggage on top of a boat, unsecured? It seemed odd, but it wasn’t raining and the crossing was only five minutes long.

I had already tweeted for help from my travel company at home and to Bamba Experience, but afterwards realized that none of them were open because it is Sunday.

I decided to be even more resourceful and go searching for someone who was bilingual – Spanish and English. I picked out the ‘whitest’ people I could find nearby and lucky me, they ‘hablo Anglais’. I explained my situation to them and asked if they could explain it all to the man who was trying to help me. They were fantastic and communicated back and forth fluently. It was then I found out that the man was planning to take me into Puerta Ayora to get further information and help get it sorted out. The problem was, if I went with him, he and I weren’t able to communicate because he didn’t speak English and my Spanish is WAY too basic for a problem like this.

We all got on the ferry and continued the conversation. The ferry crossing was $0.80. A fee I wasn’t prepared for. It was a tiny amount, but I had to go searching to find money.

After much more conversation and translation, my new friends, Tanya and Victor ended up coming with me and the man who may or may not be the guide that I needed. Tanya and Victor could have taken the bus into Puerta Ayora for something cheap like $1 or $2 per person. However, because I knew I was going to struggle with communicating, I offered to pay their fare if they’d like to travel with me and this ‘guide’.

In the end, they said they wanted to help me and yes, they would come along. I’m truly glad they did. The guide told them stories, history and facts in Spanish and Tanya translated most of them for me. Had I been alone, I never would have gotten any of this knowledge.

Tanya & Victor
Tanya & Victor

The guide then told us that he was supposed to do a couple of tours with the person he picked up before going back to the hotel. These tours were both along the way and if we didn’t do them now, we might not have the chance to. Oddly, the were tours that I had heard of, but they were not listed on my itinerary with Bamba Experience at all. So, then I started wondering more if he was the correct person that was supposed to pick me up.
Tanya and Victor were up for stopping at a couple of points along the way, so we did!

First stop – Los Gemelos which are huge sink holes that (from the translation I got) were caused by huge gas bubbles that burst and created the holes. We also saw a couple of different bird species.

Los Gemelos, Santa Cruz Island
Los Gemelos, Santa Cruz Island

Second stop – The lava tunnels. A tunnel that is 800 meters long and ranges in height from crawl spaces of about 1 foot in height to about the height of a house … except it is a tunnel underground.

Upon pulling into the ‘parking lot’, I ‘oooooo’d’ with excitement. There was a big turtle just hanging out right there having a little snack of grass.

Our guide left us at the entrance of the tunnel with his assistant (Patricio) to fumble our way through the tunnel. Conditions were damp and dark with uneven footing and a little slippery.

There were two tight spots where you had to get low and crawl through. Both of these crawl spaces were only about two meters long, so not incredibly difficult or scary, but very wet and dirty! My hands, knees and pants were covered in slimy mud. Not really a big deal as I was wearing the same pants I had worn the past two days! I’m backpacking you know! Now I have enough items that are dirty that I need to do laundry!

Lava Tunnels, Santa Cruz Island
Lava Tunnels, Santa Cruz Island
Lava Tunnels, Santa Cruz Island
Lava Tunnels, Santa Cruz Island

The tunnel was interesting to see, but not a ‘must do’ on a trip to the Galapagos.

Third stop – Rancho Primicia – an area where huge turtles roam around the grounds at their leisure and you can roam around freely with them. They suggest you stay back by two meters and that you approach from behind or from the side. If you stand directly in front of them, they may feel threatened. Did you know that turtles hiss and grunt when they are scared? Then they retreat into their shells.

Luckily, these turtles aren’t all that afraid of humans. If you do approach them from the front, they may grunt and hiss and duck their head for a minute, but it is short lived and then they are back to staring you down …. Or eating their grass lunch.

One of the coolest things that I saw here was a little yellow finch who was particularly attracted to one of the turtles I was photographing. Check out the finch sitting on the turtle shell!

The Turtle and the Finch
The Turtle and the Finch

I also got some great photos of the turtles. Something so interesting about these creatures that look pre-historic and who carry their homes on their back.

Turtle, Santa Cruz Island, Rancho Primicias
Turtle, Santa Cruz Island, Rancho Primicias
Turtle, Santa Cruz Island, Rancho Primicias
Turtle, Santa Cruz Island, Rancho Primicias
Turtle, Santa Cruz Island, Rancho Primicias
Turtle, Santa Cruz Island, Rancho Primicias

We also had a little ‘touristy’ fun here.

Shari in Turtle shell, Rancho Primicias
Shari in Turtle shell, Rancho Primicias

On the way out, our guide caught a glimpse of some fresh picked bananas hanging from a hook. He walked up and grabbed a few and then offered them to us as a snack. I’m not a huge fan of bananas, although I love banana flavor! This banana tasted great, although that might also have been because I didn’t get a chance for breakfast this morning. I figured it was safe to eat as I peeled it myself! I’m not sick yet … Thank you Dukoral and knock on wood.

After all of this, we finally made our way into Puerto Ayora where the man took me to Hotel Crossman and they were expecting me. In the end, it was the gentleman at the airport that was supposed to pick me up, but there was a lot of confusion because I hadn’t been given the name of my hotel and of course our language barrier.

I did as I said I would and paid for Tanya and Victor’s part of the ride into town. I didn’t have to pay for my own as it was included, after we figured out that I was the right person. They certainly didn’t expect me to pay their entire fare in, but they were super to help me out, take time out of their day to come with me and then Tanya also acted as translator for most of the history and interesting things that the man pointed out in Spanish. All in all, even though my costs were ‘all included’, paying $30 to have Victor and Tanya along was money well spent.

I barely got checked in to the hotel, dropped my bags off and my driver was rushing me to come with him so he could take me to get my lunch. He dropped me off at La Chocolate Restaurante.

Not exactly sure what I ate here as the waitress dropped my food off and then never came back to check on me. I think it was mashed potatoes with cheese, maybe pork? As the meat and then a cold rice and broccoli salad.

Food in the Galapagos
Food in the Galapagos
Food in the Galapagos
Food in the Galapagos

1 thought on “Confusion in paradise

  1. I am enjoying your travels Shari. I am going to stick my neck out and say that those are definitely tortoises and not turtles Darwin would not be pleased :-).

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