We arrived in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the main city on San Cristobal and home of the administrative offices for the entire Galapagos islands, after our 2+ hour roller coaster transfer from Santa Cruz. We were met by another representative from our agency, Gina, who showed us around the town and took us to our Bed and Breakfast, Casa Iguana Mar y Sol. It didn't take long to drive through the entire town, it's probably less than 30 blocks in total. And when we arrived at our B&B things got off to a wonderful start right out of the gate, as the owner, Patricia, opened the door and said "Ah, has Walter arrived?"
Patricia is an ex-pat from New Mexico, has been visiting the Galapagos for almost 40 years, and opened up her B&B with her Ecuadorian partner, Luis, about 6 years ago. Staying with her and Luis was like staying with family, and they doted and fussed over Walter as if he were their own grandchild. The B&B itself was excellent, and a huge improvement over our supposed 5-star hotel on Santa Cruz. Luis built the house himself, and is also a woodworker and created the furnishings and shutters throughout the house. The shutters were awesome, as we were able to sleep in to a reasonable hour rather than being awakened by the sun at 6am like in Santa Cruz. It's the small things... ;) I could go on and on about the kindnesses Patricia and Luis showed us: gluten free banana pancakes, apple juice bought just for Walter, letting Walter pick a not-quite-ripe papaya straight from the tree, cutting open a coconut so Walter could watch, etc. Suffice it to say, we have not often been positively surprised by our accommodations, much less overwhelmed by them, but this was an exception. Phenomenal stay!
We arrived on San Cristobal around 10a, so after dropping our bags and taking a much-needed nap, we took a taxi out to a local beach called La Loberia. This is a very popular beach for surfing, snorkeling, watching the large sea lion colony, and seeing marine iguanas. The water was pretty choppy and I was nervous about taking Walter out there, but we met a couple from New Jersey that had an inflatable life jacket and they offered it up for Walter. We stayed for a couple of hours, snorkeling, playing on the beach, and watching the crazy antics of the sea lions and their pups. Walter and I got a decent look at a sea turtle and had a couple of close encounters with sea lions, though nothing like on Santa Fe.
The next day we headed out on a day trip to Isla Lobos and a beach whose name I've forgotten. We stopped at the beach first, which had sand like fine flour and gorgeous blue water. I snorkeled while Walter built sand castles and then walked with Jie to find shells and animals (or "friends", as we call them). We did a short hike on Isla Lobos where we saw a number of marine iguanas and blue footed boobies, including several adolescents who don't yet have blue feet. The hike was probably more notable for the dead animals we saw: a grown sea lion, a brown pelican, and a smaller iguana. It was a bit of a shock to see, but after a while you get used to the fact that this really is an environment largely left to nature, and if that means there is a sea lion carcass right off the hiking trail, so be it. The highlight of the snorkeling was the opportunity to watch a marine iguana swim and feed on algae. Watching that happen checked another box on our mental checklist of animals to see in Galapagos. The only downside of this day trip is that my sunglasses were stolen from my backpack at some point during the boat ride. At first I thought maybe I left them in the hotel or at the agency office, but the next day I was going through photos and came across one of me and Walter on the boat, and sure enough, there were my sunglasses around my neck. Too bad, as I bought them just before coming to South America and really liked them. Oh well, so it goes... The video below is just under 3 minutes
The best part of the day, though, came after the day trip. We asked our handler, Gina, if we could go by the Avianca ticket office and attempt to change our flight to return to Quito from San Cristobal instead of Santa Cruz. She was kind enough to take us, explain to the Avianca guy what we wanted to do, and when it proved feasible she even took me back to the hotel to get our vouchers while Jie and Walter waited in the office so they could hold the seats for us! I had tried to book our original itinerary this way but it would have cost more than $1000 more. The cost to change the tickets was only about $260 and we already had $200 in vouchers! We saved about $40 staying at Casa Iguana instead of our Santa Fe hotel (even after paying a $100 cancel fee), and then we got $120 back since we no longer needed to take a boat back to Santa Cruz. So all in we actually saved money by avoiding another 2+ hour boat ride and freeing up a half day for more fun on the island!
Anyway, the next day we did our other highlight excursion, this one to Kicker Rock. Again we stopped on a beach beforehand, where again I got some decent video of sea turtles. I was pretty stoked at the time, though after visiting Kicker Rock it was actually no big deal. Some other tourists had told us a few days prior that they had been diving all over the world and had never seen better wildlife than at Kicker Rock, so we were pretty excited about it. Despite that, we still were blown away by the snorkeling there. We had two separate 50 minute blocks in the water separated by a quick lunch on the boat. All told, we saw about a dozen sea turtles, a half-dozen or so Galapagos, white-tipped, and black-tipped sharks; several different starfish, a handful of sea lions, and best of all, a hammerhead shark. The hammerhead had been high on Walter's checklist for months and months, but they are actually pretty rare to see when snorkeling. They prefer colder water and thus it's usually the divers who get the hammerheads. But we got lucky and had a good sized hammerhead swim by just underneath our group and Walter got a great view of it, while I caught a few seconds of video.
We spent our last full day in Galapagos hiking up Cerro Tijeretas to see nesting Frigates (we saw a few), and then down to Darwin's Bay to get a photo with the Darwin statue and then to snorkel in one of the actual spots where Darwin himself landed on the islands. Very cool, as the water was crystal clear and Walter and I had a great snorkel while Jie waited patiently in the rain. The best part was when we spotted a dead sand dollar on the sea floor and Walter successfully dove the 10-12 feet down to get it. What a swimmer! Afterwards we snorkeled briefly at Playa Punta Carola, which is normally a nice beach but we hit it at low tide and it was extremely rocky. Despite that, we saw sea turtles and had another fun run-in with a sea lion. Regrettably, I was fighting the current in at the time and didn't have the time or energy to stop and play, lest we get swept out by the current and have to swim in all over again. After lunch in town we went back to La Loberia, but this time the weather was against us and it rained pretty hard much of the time. Walter and I built a sand castle and had fun watching as a baby sea lion climbed over it looking for its mother.
It is quite easy to declare that Galapagos is the most impressive destination we've visited thus far in all our travels. Walter can't decide whether he prefers this to eating sushi in Tokyo, but given nothing else has come close to matching Tokyo, that's very high praise indeed. When Jie and I decided to take the time off for our Gap Year travels it was in order to have experiences and create memories like we've done over the last week, and I'm so glad we did. In fact, we've already started talking about what we'd like to do next time we're here. ;)
Lots more photos and videos of our time in Galapagos are available here: https://markandjie.smugmug.com/Gap-Year/Galapagos/