18th January 2015
Pottering Around Puerto Ayora in the Galapagos Islands
Getting to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz one of the Galapagos Islands was an adventure in itself and more so due to the vagaries of the airline Tame. We arrived at Guayaquil airport in plenty of time to have our luggage scanned, check in and obtain our transit card. Fortunately we had an escort provided by our local agent Ecuadorian Tours and while we had our bags scanned (food is not allowed into the islands but water is okay) and tagged he checked us in. As we checked our bags in William joined the queue to get our transit cards without which you cannot enter the Galapagos Islands. We waited anxiously as the minutes ticked by and William remained in the same position in a long queue of individual travellers. When he finally reached the head of the queue he brought our transit cards to us in small batches so that we could start going through to the departure lounge.
By the time we arrived at the gate our flight had disappeared from the list of departures and the flight before ours had not left yet. I went to that gate and was told to collect my group and wait there. I obeyed the instructions I had been given and we lingered uncertainly in limbo. Then the signal was given and we were called forward to board the plane. But it was not our plane and our boarding passes were meaningless as we were told to take any empty seat we could find – all the careful planning to get window seats on the side of the plane with the best view of the Galapagos Islands had been in vain and it was a scramble to just find a seat for the short flight. On arrival at Baltra airport we were held back while a dog sniffed the luggage for food as visitors are not allowed to bring food into the Islands. We were in Arrivals at the right time but on the wrong flight and our guide was not there but a very helpful stranger telephoned our hotel and our guide arrived ten minutes later. We waited outside in the sunshine enjoying our first views of the lunar-like landscape of the Galapagos Islands.
We were staying at Hotel Silberstein on Santa Cruz Island and to get there it was a short bus from the airport on the small island of Baltra to the Baltra ferry terminal port and then the ferry across to the Island. Our luggage was transported separately so we could enjoy the short journey and in particular the sight of seals snoozing on the buoys in the channel. The sun was warming our backs when we sat on the ferry but as we topped the mountains we were surrounded by a swirling mist and had to peer through the gloom on our walk around the twin craters at Los Gemelos. We could not see much of the landscape but a very obliging Galapagos Dove (endemic to the islands and not found anywhere else) posed for us. The tiny Darwin finches that were flitting around us were not so co-operative.
Continuing on our way to Puerto Ayora we were thrilled to see giant tortoises ambling along the grass verges by the road and grazing in the fields on each side of us. A plea to stop to take photographs resulted in a visit to Rancho Primicias to see the wild tortoises that live there. It cost $3 each which included entrance to the lava tunnel there as well. We would have happily stayed there all day observing the giant tortoise in its natural habitat and we could have had lunch there but we were expected at hour hotel so we had to move on.
After a lovely lunch of fish and chips at the Hotel Silberstein we visited the Charles Darwin Foundation a short walk down the road to learn about Darwin’s theory of evolution based on the different varieties of Darwin Finch that flitted around us constantly. Sadly the main attraction, Lonesome George, has passed away having reputedly reached the great age of 150 years. He was the last of his species but the Foundation is working hard to ensure that no other species will die out. There was plenty to see and learn at the Foundation but for me the highlight was watching the marine iguanas coming ashore to find somewhere to sleep overnight. We watched these mini-dragons skirmishing for the best places until dusk fell and it was time for the Foundation to close.
During dinner that evening we were regularly serenaded by music blaring from the tourist train that regularly passed our hotel. We decided to investigate and set off to explore the town which was much livelier than I had expected. Traditional dances were being performed in the fish market, shops were still open and the tables outside the bars were overflowing with customers. When we found the terminus for the tourist trains there were crowds of people awaiting their turn but no queue so it was first come got a seat. We had to move quickly to get on board either the caterpillar or the elephant. It was worth the effort as we whizzed round the town waving at passers-by. It was fun and a great way to end our first day in Puerto Ayora as well as getting an idea of the size of the town. As we walked back to our hotel we browsed the many souvenir shops that lined our route.
I went for an early morning walk on our last day in Puerto Ayora but I did not get any further than the fish market. The boats were unloading closely watched by a sea lion and several pelicans all ready to swoop should a fish fall from one of the boxes or scraps be thrown to the ground as the fish were filleted ready to be sold. One sea lion slumbered contentedly on the quay presumably satiated with fresh fish. Lobsters were in season and there were piles of them by a set of scales which were in regular use as a steady stream of people arrived to buy them. I had to drag myself away as it was time to leave for the airport.
After our experience flying out to the Galapagos Islands I was not expecting a smooth passage back to Quito via Guayaquil. I was not surprised when we were told that our flight was delayed by two hours but as we were now going direct to Quito we would still arrive at the same time. There were small avenues of stalls in the airport lounge and a café and bar so we had plenty to amuse ourselves – at first. Our flight time went back several times and the stalls all closed down. It was difficult to get information as the check-in desks were busy dealing with those passengers on our flight who wanted to go directly to Guayaquil and not via Quito. The food vouchers we had been given did not go far but the time it took to organise sixteen filled rolls and sixteen soft drinks distracted us until it was finally time to board our flight. The plane was only half full and we all had window seats but by then it was too dark to see anything. The joys of travelling – but it had been worth it to experience the lovely town of Puerto Ayora.
Our stay on the Galapagos Islands was part of a tour organised by Solos Holidays and their local representative in Ecuador, Ecuadorian Tours. We stayed at the Silberstein Hotel in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. This small hotel in the centre of the town offers comfortable rooms, a lovely garden to relax in and simple but tasty cuisine. The staff were helpful and friendly and will organise boat trips around the Galapagos Islands for their guests. Flights with KLM via Amsterdam offer the option of flying home from Quayaquil after a visit to the Galapagos Islands.