It was the chance of a lifetime. I had earned a free plane ticket to the Galapagos simply by purchasing groceries every week at the Ecuadorian grocery store known as “Supermaxi.” All they had to do was pay for one ticket in order for the entire family to go.
We knew we were cutting it close by planning our Galapagos Trip so soon after returning from our trip to the U.S. However, we wanted to complete the trip before Jared turned two years old. As an “infant,” Jared would be able to sit in our lap for a free plane ride. At the age of two, we would be required to purchase a seat for him. With his birthday coming up on the 25th of July, we knew that we couldn’t waste too much time.
Knowing that we were returning to Quito, from our trip to the U.S., on the 16th of July, I booked the tickets for the following Tuesday, July 21st. We would spend two nights and three days on the Island of “Santa Cruz” and then return to Quito on the afternoon of July 23rd.
The flight was scheduled for 7:50am and I was told to be at the airport at least two hours early. Fortunately, we do not live far from the airport and we were offered a ride by one of our coworkers. We arrive shortly before 6am and soon discovered why we needed to be there two hours in advance.
All adult travelers to the Galapagos Islands are required to go through an additional “luggage inspection line” and are required to purchase a special $10 card that gives them admission to travel to the islands. This line took nearly an hour. It was also confusing and disorganized because several people kept cutting in front of us, and we couldn’t figure out why they got priority over us. Eventually, Stephen got tired of the confusion and pushed me to the front of the line, saying, “Tell her that you are next.”
After obtaining two cards and scanning our luggage, we returned to the main ticket counter where we needed to check-in to our flight. When we checked in our luggage and received our boarding passes, we had to wait in another line to go through the security check point and get our carry-on’s checked AGAIN.
The interesting thing about the airports in Ecuador is that they are more lenient on what you can carry through security if you are traveling domestically. Therefore, we could carry as many liquids as we wanted. If we had been traveling outside the country, we would not even be allowed to bring drinks on board that were purchased beyond the security check point.
Although we were less than two hours away from the islands, our flight to the “Isla Baltra” of the Galapagos was not a direct flight. After being in the air for 30 minutes, we landed in the coastal city of Guayaquil to allow an exchange of passengers. The rest of us sat on the plane waiting for it to take off again.
From there, we had an hour and a half flight to our final destination. I carried Luke in her lap, while Stephen had Jared. In past flights, Jared has insisted on sitting in “Mamma’s lap”, but he was quite content to stay in “Dad’s” lap this time. (Probably because dad had a window seat.) However, once we were in the air for the second time a flight attendant came to our row and offered the man, sitting next to us, the opportunity to sit somewhere else. That allowed Mamma and Luke the chance to move over to the isle seat and for Jared to have his own seat between Mamma and Dad. It was great to have a row to ourselves as we looked out the window to see the islands a few minutes before we landed.
I was amazed by the vast amount of empty land that surrounded the landing strip. There was nothing but grey grass, green shrubs and tall cactuses that separated the land from the sea.
All passengers deplaning made use of an old-fashioned movable staircase to the runway. A yellow path was marked on the edge of the runway to guide passengers toward the airport. It got a little confusing in the middle, because the arriving passengers crossed paths with departing passengers who were getting ready to board their plane.
Apparently all major airlines only sent their planes to the islands for a few hours before turning around and going back to the mainland. It didn’t seem to me that the airport was big enough for commercial airlines to be stored for the night. Only small charter jets could be seen near the few hangers that were on the island.
After getting through the sea of leaving passengers, we made our way toward several lines of people trying to go through the entry point. A guard took notice of us and another couple standing in front of us who had a baby. He guided us past the crowds directly to the front of the “foreigner” line. He helped us to get our paperwork processed in record time, just because we were carrying small children with us. Within fifteen minutes of arriving, we were paying our $100 “national park fee for foreigners” (per adult) and making our way to the luggage area.
A large truck with a flatbed was driven up to a large open area where workers unloaded the entire luggage into the center of the room and allowed dogs to sniff over them. After that, a make shift gate was opened to allow people to pick up their luggage. The whole process reminded me of airport experiences in her childhood. This airport appeared virtually untouched by 21st century technology.
In the process of waiting for Stephen to find our suitcase, I was approached by an eager tour guide who wanted to offer them a $300 dollar package that would give them a “great hotel” with all meals included and a tour of all the attractions on the Galapagos. She just smiled and shook her head, glad that they had already made reservations in advance at a hotel on Santa Cruz for only $45 a night for the whole family.
The next step was to take an airport charter bus from the airport to the docks where boats carried passengers from the “Isla Baltra” to the “Isla Santa Cruz.” All passengers took the boat, because Baltra was a barren island, besides the airport.
Baby Luke was asleep, but Jared was wide awake to appreciate the ferry boat ride across the channel which cost his parents a whopping 80 cents each. After landing on the north end of Santa Cruz, we needed to take a 45 minute bus ride to the south end of the island where all the hotels and tourist areas were located. The bus dropped us off on the main street at about 1pm, and we were all ready for lunch.
After a little bit of wandering down the main street, we were able to find our hotel called “Sir Francis Drake.” We unloaded our luggage and went out to find a restaurant. We found a little café that served a full meal for $3 each. After lunch, Stephen and I were more ready for a nap than Jared and Luke. After a couple hours of resting in the hotel room, we all went out to explore the main street area.
Jared loved strolling out on the dock to look at the boats in the water and the birds flying overhead. We played in a little playground and took pictures and looked around at the different tour packages being offered. We ended up eating an early dinner and trying to get a good night’s rest so that we could go sight seeing the next day.
The next morning, we found another café to eat breakfast and then headed down to the docks to find a decent but short tour that would get us back in time for the boys’ naptime.
After talking to one tour company, we ended up taking a 2 ½ hour taxi tour of the inside of the island in the morning and a 3 hour boat tour to the coastal area of the island in the afternoon.
We saw turtles in their natural habitat and volcanic made craters and tunnels in the morning. Jared wasn’t sure what to make of the huge tortoises lounging around in the grassy area of the tortoise reserve.
After a short nap and lunch, we joined a tour that took us out to sea in a little row boat with a motor. I have to admit that I got a little nervous as we headed out across rocky ocean waves. The tour guide had no life vests for small children. Jared was swamped in a life vest that looked like it should have fit a teenager. I was glad I had little Luke strapped onto me in his Baby Bjorn®. However, the thin life vest given to me could barely be wrapped around me and Luke combined. I knew that if the boat capsized, this life vest would not be much of a “life saver.” I hid my concerns from the boys as the boat slapped mercilessly against the ocean’s surface, sending a spray of ocean water across my face every time. Jared and Luke giggled and squealed with glee the entire time.
Our first stop was a little island off the coast of Santa Cruz to see some animals and to try to see the sharks. We saw a few seals lounging among the rocky shore, but we didn’t see any sharks. Our tour guide insisted he saw a shark fin a couple time, but none of the rest of us saw it.
Then we zoomed over to the coast of Santa Cruz to look at some blue-footed boobies nesting on the cliffs. We spotted some iguanas lounging in the sun, as well. We passed a fisherman’s boat as they were cleaning their latest catch. There were hopeful seagulls and pelicans flying around who were waiting for scraps to be tossed to them.
The tour guide brought us to a dock area that he called the “Harbor of Love.” We all got off the boat to do a little hiking and exploring. We hiked down to a sandy, beach area where the many iguanas had made their breeding grounds. Iguanas were lounging everywhere we looked. Jared had a lot of fun pointing them all out.
After our hike, Stephen was given a chance to snorkel. I stayed on shore with the boys and watched. Stephen saw a school of fish, but was too nervous about sharks to swim out too far from the shore.
Our final stop before heading back to the bay, was to pass a half-sunken ship. Our tour guide made a big deal about the fact that the boat had been stuck there for the past eight years. He said no one knew why it sunk but it remained in that spot ever since.
We returned to our hotel with time to shower and get ready for our final dinner on the Galapagos. The following morning, we would leave the hotel at 9am to catch a bus back to the northern coast and the ferry boat that would take us to the “Isla Baltra” and our flight back home.
It was a short trip, but it was enough to give us a taste of the amazing wildlife that make their home there. Jared remembers the boat ride best. If anything sticks to his memory, that would be the one thing that would. And we took plenty of pictures to reinforce his memories.