It’s a 26 hour trip to the Galápagos from London. That’s including 4 hour waits in Bogata and Quito. The cool weather of those two cities turned to bright sunshine as we landed at the airport on Baltra island.
You pay your $100 and get your passport stamp. Then a bus ride past the old US Army base to a narrow and dramatic stretch of water which separates Baltra from Santa Cruz. A first view of the colours: the bright blue water, the black lava rock, the red soil and the white trees. And the first frigate birds come into site; almost prehistoric.
So a boat trip and a crowded, slow bus ride up the hill on Santa Cruz. The sun turns to drizzle and cold winds at the summit before the decent to the rather scruffy town of Puerto Ayora.
We explore the attractions. The Charles Darwin Research Centre (everything is named after Darwin) is a short walk out of town. The first view of them is quite thrilling. I’ve seen them before in zoos but a large number of giant tortoises is a real surprise. Also land iguanas and a slightly bizarre, air conditioned mausoleum which holds the body of Lonesome George. It was like visiting Lenin.
This was my favourite attraction. A simply fish market made up of a few concrete tables. A basic range of fish and boxes and boxes of lobsters of two types. (We were told that it’s a rare open season for lobsters and which would end shortly; the numbers seemed to be a bit unsubstainable.) Behind the fish is a line of women each holding a plastic fly swat. A couple of men are selling the lobsters. Beside the women is a crowd of pelicans and herons, and behind them is a sealion or two.
The market goes on all day. Tourists are encouraged to buy a lobster which can be cooked later at one of the local restaurants. The women guard, the wildlife waits. Occasionally a filleted fish skeleton is tossed into the harbour behind them and the pelicans race the sealion for the treat. We watched the sealion propel itself across the wet concrete on its stomach and dive into the water to beat the birds.
On another visit the women were on a break and the men were guarding less thoroughly. One pelican sidled up and down, moving closer to a pile of fish. If someone looked in its direction it would look the another way and retreat. Eventually it found the moment to grab a large fish in its beak, struggled slightly to get hold and escaped before anyone could do anything. It settled across the harbour to try to deal with the huge bulge in its pouch.
It’s a long walk to Tortuga Bay but really worth it. You first climb the lava flow escarpment that surrounds Puerto Ayora and start along a paved path through a rather mysterious forest of Palo Santo, the incense tree. Most of the year it is leaf-less, covered in a light grey lichen and giving the impression of a white forest. Among these are the opuntia, a giant cactus which develops into a tree with a shiny, flaky, bronze coloured trunk. That then collapses and shows a fibrous honeycomb structure that looks like reinforced cardboard. The forest is full of tame mockingbirds.
The path ends at a long white beach backed by low dunes where the turtles nest. The sea is for surfing not swimming but that doesn’t stop the marine iguanas who walk up and down the beach and rest in groups on the sand and rock. At the end of the beach are some rocks and you turn right to a sheltered lagoon with its own beach and iguanas.