January 9, 2008
Cab, plane, bus, ferry, and cab. I am finally off to the Galápagos. What an adventure getting to the Darwin Research Station. I left the hotel this morning about 5 to catch my flight from Quito to the Galápagos. Being able to understand a bit of Spanish would make this whole experience much easier. Once at the airport, I was directed to the special screening section. It was closed, but soon a couple of men opened it up. I sat there, thinking they would call me when they were ready, not realizing they were open for business. My luggage and carryon passed and received special tags to prove it. They were looking for plant and animal materials that aren't allowed in the Galápagos. Security was a breeze, water bottles, no problem! The waiting area was confusing; there were only four gates, two of which were used. The confusing part came in with the gate listed for my flight being gate 0. Not one of the options I could find. People watching came in handy and I found a tour group that was also on my flight and with a bilingual guide. After a quick stop in Guayaquil to drop off passengers, pick up some others and fumigate the plane, we were off to the Galápagos Islands. Once in Baltra, we were escorted through a customs line of sorts. This is where foreigners get to pay a $100 cash tax for coming to the islands. Lucky me I had a volunteer/researcher's permit that exempted me from that transaction. It seemed like it took forever for our luggage to come out. Actually they brought it into a gated area, unloaded it all, putting it in piles and then opened the gate. Folks ran in to pick up their luggage and then stood in another line to have a guard check their tags with their luggage.
Here I was put on a bus, took to the docks for a short ferry ride. As we crossed the small channel, two sea lions were basking on a channel marker as though they were there to greet us. On the other side, was one last mode of transportation the 45-minute taxi ride to the Darwin Research Station.
We started the journey across the island in what was nothing more than brush, cacti, and red volcanic rock. Eventually the landscape was covered with grasses, ferns, and tropical trees. It was in this area I saw my first Galápagos tortoises. As we made our way back down from the highlands, the landscape switched back to the cacti, brush, and volcanic rock.
I arrived at the Darwin Research Station just as everyone was going to lunch. I was shown my new home away from home, a modest cabin type room. Complete with a fridge and something that looks like a propane stove. As I walked around the grounds, gazing at the finches, I couldn't help but to be reminded that I was at the Darwin Research Station. There are two different species of finches here. The black and grey ones spend most of their time on the ground and the yellow ones perch on the bushes and cacti.
Sonia, the administrative assistant to the scientists tried to give me directions to the restaurant on the premises, but I couldn't find it. I later met up with her when lunch was over and explained that I never found the place. She took me on a little walk and after several twists and turns, passing what seemed like a zillion iguanas, we arrived at the restaurant. No wonder I couldn't find it on my own. They were closed but made me a special lunch. Fried fish of some kind, a small salad, french fries, watermelon, and some fresh squeezed juice. It was awesome.