August 24/25, 2008
The flight from Columbus to Miami was uneventful. I arrived in Miami and was prepared for my planned seven-hour layover. I had my cell phone, a list of people that I wanted to talk to, and a couple of books to read. The flight to Guayaquil boarded after a 50-minute delay; the takeoff was smooth and uneventful. About five minutes into the flight the Captain announced that there was a warning light on one of the landing gear doors and we would have to return to Miami to have a mechanic take a look at. Not to worry, he said that it was probably a switch on the gear door and would only take about 45 minutes to fix. On the ground 45 minutes turned into 75 minutes. Then an announcement was made that they would have to get another airplane because the mechanics could not fix the problem. No problem, there was another airplane across the airport and it should be at the gate in an hour. The hour became four hours before we were boarded and were finally on our way to Ecuador. By the time I made it to my hotel in Guayaquil, I had an entire four hours to enjoy my room after being awake for almost 24 hours. I was asleep in an instant.
The morning arrived way too early. I was glad that I had set two alarms - I needed them both. The flight to the Galapagos Islands was smooth and uneventful. Until I stepped off the plane on Baltra Island, the entire experience had been very surreal. Flying at night without visual references I did not have a sense of the distance that I had traveled. Even at the Quayaquil airport - as new and modern as it was - it did not seem as if I had traveled as far as I had (all airports tend to look very similar to me). Flying to the islands above the clouds, again no visual references to the ground left me without a concrete sense of where I was. All this really changed when I stepped off the plane on Baltra Island. The arid, volcanic landscape was unlike anything that I had ever experienced. The airport was very different as well. The airport has a single runway that was originally built in WWII by the United States as part of a military base to defend the Panama Canal. The terminal was open-air and very small. After four planes and two days of travel it definitely felt like I was almost 4,000 miles from home!
To get to the Charles Darwin Research Station I had to take a bus a short distance from the airport to a ferry. The ferry then took me from Baltra Island, across a narrow straight, and to Santa Cruz Island. From the ferry I caught another bus for the 40 km ride to "downtown" Porta Ayora. As the bus traversed the island it went from the arid lowlands up through dramatically changing vegetation, into the wet highlands, and then back down again to the lowlands where Port Ayora is. It was only a short taxi ride (taxis are only $1 anywhere in town) to the Station where I met up with Luis Molina, volunteer coordinator, and got settled in. This involved filling out more paperwork, and a brief tour of the station, and then I was shown my room. I was now on my own in the Galapagos Islands!