San Cristobal Island, June 23-25 2009

Our third and final speedboat ride, from Santa Cruz Island to San Cristobal, was the best of the three boats. We finally figured out how the inter-island speedboat transport works: Numerous agents represent a handful of boats, and although the price is fixed, some boats are significantly better than others. But reserving a particular boat is only a request (kind of like airline seat reservations) -- passengers can be swapped around at the last minute. The better boats are bigger, faster, and offer more protection from the spray. The number of passengers crammed into a boat is the luck of the day, and we were lucky all three times. As for the ride itself, by now we knew pretty much what to expect, but a few unsuspecting fellow passengers were duly shocked. (Two twenty-something males: The first, horribly seasick 15 minutes into the trip, repeatedly shouts "Get me off this %&*#! boat!" His companion, feeling just fine, says "No worries mate, only five minutes left. Ha-ha, just kidding -- two hours to go.")

When we arrived at the dock we were happy to immediately see our hotel occupying the choicest spot in town, but we were somewhat perplexed by its unconventional outward appearance (photo 1). The rooms were equally funky, but the breakfasts were excellent, and the location overlooking the comings and goings of the harbor couldn't be beat. Overall, the main town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island (the capital city of the Galapagos, though you'd never know by looking at it) offered a nice compromise between Isabela's three square blocks of sand streets, and Santa Cruz' buzzing 10,000 person "metropolis." The waterfront in particular has been developed very tastefully and became our favorite post-activity hang-out spot of all three islands. (We'd established an early evening tradition of Hearts games over ice cream and/or Pilsener beer. Click the link to see some impressively low ratings for Ecuador's ubiquitous watery brew.)

As on other islands, we spent one day with a hired taxi-truck shuttling us around to see sights and do short hikes. We saw as many giant tortoise breeding centers as islands we stayed on, but each visit seemed to highlight a different critical function in tortoise life: the first one featured mating, the second sleeping, and this one eating (photo 2). We also visited a remote beach, and one of the only freshwater lakes in the entire island chain, in the crater of an old volcano (photo 3).

After our scuba diving experience from Santa Cruz Island, we didn't expect to try it again. Then we heard about diving from San Cristobal: a dive site well-known throughout the islands with virtually no currents, and a dive operation with a roomy motorized catamaran. We had a free day and Emily's health was back; why not? The day turned out to be just as promised -- the dive site, Leon Dormido, better known as Kicker Rock (photo 4), was terrific, as was the dive operation and the boat (photo 5). While we maintained our streak of bad luck with no hammerhead shark sightings, we did see plenty of the surprisingly not endemic Galapagos Sharks, as well as other shark species, turtles, sea lions, and assorted fish and invertebrate life (photos 6-9, sparing you a third travelog with a shark photo). Companions on the dive boat were two private-jet pilots killing time for a week while their Tennessee tycoon boss took his family & friends on a private cruise.

Although Emily's stomach situation has resolved completely, we're not leaving the Galapagos unscathed. Jennifer boasts a large number of jellyfish stings. We didn't want to complain incessantly in the previous travelog about that group day-trip on Santa Cruz Island, but the guide directed us to snorkel in the one jellyfish-infested area of the large shore area we visited (Was it ignorance, or some kind of sick joke? We'll never know), and since we were running late after the crew had all kinds of trouble with the boat anchor, there was no time to don wetsuits. Emily also has some nasty stings or bites of unknown origin on her big toe, but fortunately the only shoes she doesn't limp in are her hiking boots, so we should be fine for the upcoming trek.

Overall we're very glad to have visited the Galapagos, and happy with the style in which we chose to visit, despite its occasional challenges. As everyone seems to agree, these islands are truly fascinating, with wildlife encounters not to be missed by any traveler with the least interest in the natural world.

Next: Back to Quito, a day-trip to visit the famous Saturday Otavalo Market (some say it's the best in South America; paradoxically that designation may cause it to no longer be true), then a few days in the cloud forest at El Monte Lodge before heading to Peru.

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