En Route to the Galapagos Islands, June 12-14 2009

Nearly all foreign tourists visit Ecuador's Galapagos Islands by taking an "eco-cruise." Over 70 boats, carrying between 10 and 100 passengers each, ply the waters, stopping for short visits to a variety of islands. This style of programmed, relatively low-activity travel is not for us, so for years we figured we'd never visit the Galapagos. Then our friend Amr El Abbadi and his adventure-traveling family took a land-based island-hopping Galapagos trip -- it turns out that's how the locals do it -- and we decided to give it a try. Although we won't cover nearly as wide a variety of places as the cruises do, we'll be able to pack in more activities each day, and most importantly our days will be under our own control.

We departed for our five-week trip to Ecuador & Peru without wasting a day after school and Stanford finished up. The journey from home to Isabela Island, our first of three stops in the Galapagos, was no minor task. After plane changes in El Salvador and Costa Rica, we arrived for an overnight in Quito (photo 1), Ecuador's capital, situated in the Andes at 9300 feet. We had an evening to look around Quito's historic district (photos 2 & 3); we'll pass through Quito twice more, with more time to explore.

The bureaucracy, inspections, and fees to enter the Galapagos are quite substantial; prominently displayed signs and pie charts suggest it's all for the benefit of conserving these very unique islands. When our plane landed on Santa Cruz Island, the other foreign tourists were quickly whisked away to their cruise boats, while we were left taking a rattletrap bus, a small ferry, and then an even rattlier bus to reach Puerto Ayora, where we would catch a small speedboat to Isabela Island. The "fibra" speedboat rides between islands bear descriptions ranging from "uncomfortable" to "terrifying." Seasickness can be rampant, and those with bad backs are advised against these boats due to the potential for crashing from swell to swell. Our ride was probably average -- all four of us and our fellow two passengers retained our lunch, and we arrived intact.

On Isabela Island we settled into the very comfortable Hotel Albemarle, where we'll spend five nights. While we didn't have much time to explore on our first day, it was hard to miss the hordes of endemic marine iguanas (photos 4 & 5) wandering the lava rocks on the beach adjacent to our hotel.

Our photography protocol on this trip is yet to be fully worked out. Jennifer is still carrying the same old Canon pocket camera that's served us reliably for our travel-year and beyond. However, Tim
has gotten quite serious about photography since we last traveled -- he recently bought himself a Canon G10, now permanently fixed around his neck, and for special wildlife occasions he also has along a Nikon D200 and 80-400 lens, on generous indefinite loan from his photo mentors Hector Garcia-Molina and Matthew Scott. (All of the photos in this travelog are from Tim's G10. ) While Tim would love for this trip to be all photos all the time, the rest of us aren't that keen on a lot of standing around; also, Jennifer is having some anxiety over how the variety and volume of trip photos will get organized and shared. Stay tuned.

Next: After Isabela we'll weather another speedboat ride back to Santa Cruz Island, spend a few days there, then finish our Galapagos visit on San Cristobal Island. After the Galapagos it's back to Quito, a few days visiting the markets and eco-lodges of the Ecuador highlands, then off to Peru for a two-week trek.

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