South America Diary: Day 5

Isla San Cristóbal to Guayaquil. Tuesday, 19 April, 2011

Leon Dormido This morning was an early start, after another cruise during the night to the island of San Cristóbal. We assembled at 06:00 on the top sun deck of the boat for a view of the approaching Léon Dormido (also known as Kicker Rock) – a volcanic lava cone now exposed as a bare chunk of rock jutting from the sea several hundred metres off the shore of the main island. The aim here was to do a couple of circuits of the rock to observe the nesting and courtship display of frigatebirds.

Frigatebird pouch The rock is split by a narrow channel of water, otherwise presenting a steeply sloping profile that gives it its Spanish name of “sleeping lion”. There are only a few alcoves where a sea lion can haul out of the water, and these were populated by dozing beasts. We also saw lots of blue-footed boobies nesting or streaking the rock with guano. But the major attractions here were the magnificent frigatebirds, which nest on the rock. As the boat did a circuit, we could see several nests with birds on them, and as we watched the males inflated their large red throat sacs in their spectacular courtship display. They were necessarily one or two hundred metres away, but we got good views through binoculars or telephoto camera lenses.

The boat circled the rock twice, allowing us plenty of time to see the various birds. We also spotted a Pacific green sea turtle in the water at the base of the rock, watching it surface to breathe a few times before it disappeared again. Having completed our circuits of the rock, the boat set out for the small town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital of the Galapagos province of Ecuador, on the southwest coast of San Cristóbal.

Unipark Hotel, Guayaquil. 21:24

Galapagos Voyager tour group I am starting the second diary notebook because disaster has struck – I have accidentally left the first diary on our flight from San Cristóbal to Guayaquil. I only realised it a few minutes ago when I tried to find the diary to write up today’s events. I visited hotel reception to see if they could contact Aerogal and see if they had it, but the airline phone lines aren’t answering until 09:00 tomorrow – by which time we will be halfway to Lima in Peru. The plan is to find an Aerogal person at the airport tomorrow and explain the situation and hope the diary can be recovered and mailed to us. I remembered writing some stuff on the plane, then putting the diary into the seat pocket, and that’s the last I remember seeing it, and now we don’t have it.

Apart from this rather devastating loss, the day was otherwise fine. After our circuits of Leon Dormido, the boat headed for the main port on the island of San Cristóbal. Meanwhile we had our last breakfast on board – omelettes with red capsicum bits, plus pancakes and syrup, slices of ham and cheese, bread, toast, and the usual cereals. The juice tasted like a mixture of leftover passionfruit juice form yesterday afternoon plus some orange or something similar – very good.

Puerto Baquerizo Moreno During breakfast, I arranged for everyone on the tour plus our guide William to meet on the sundeck on top of the boat at 08:20 (10 minutes before our scheduled arrival in port) for a group photo. I had the Spanish guy ask Francesco our waiter to take the photo for us. Everyone thought it was a great idea and it was duly done with the backdrop of the port behind us as the boat pulled into the harbour.

At 08:30, we reassembled for dinghy rides to the wharf – our last for the trip. The port is obviously a fishing port judging from the many boats anchored there. There were sea lions in the water around them, sleeping on some of the boats, and sleeping right on the wharf! The town was full of colourfully whitewashed and painted buildings, presenting a very Mediterranean appearance.

Cactus Flower Our last land trip with the group was to the Galapagos Interpretation Centre, five minutes drive on the edge of the town. This was a small cluster of buildings connected by tiled walkways through the vegetation, each containing displays variously on the geography, geology, ocean and wind currents, flora and fauna, and human history of the Galapagos. William talked us through the first three in English and Spanish, then left us to finish the rest ourselves before meeting at 10:20 back at the Centre entry. The weather was hot and oppressively sunny, with very high humidity. The Centre had shade, but no air conditioning, and the heat really started to get to some people, including M. and me. We drank all our water and sought places where a slight breeze was blowing through the buildings to rest during William’s expositions and after our own look at the human history section, which was extensive and fascinating.

From the Centre, the bus took us back to near the wharf, where we said our goodbyes to the others who were continuing on the boat for another four nights, plus the Austrian couple Otto and Brigit who were leaving to spend more time on the islands under their own steam. We needed an ATM to get cash for appropriate tips for William and the boat crew, so we visited one nearby. After battling the ATM, which had no letters written on the numbers, thus making my normal method of remembering my PIN fail, I managed to extract US$80 by checking the adjacent ATM – which fortunately had the letters on its keypad. The guy next to me using that ATM may have got a bit suspicious of me peeking over to his keypad all the time. We placed tips in the envelopes and pocketed the remainder for our own use, then gave the questionnaire and envelopes to William after he delivered us to the airport right on the outskirts of town.

Guayaquil Cathedral William’s last act was to check in for us and hand us our boarding passes for the Aerogal flight back to Guayaquil. It was supposed to leave at 13:00, which gave M. plenty of time to browse the four tiny souvenir shops there and buy us each a Galapagos T-shirt and also a small calico bag for M.’s mum. We sat at the pre-security area for a while, then tried to go through the security screen, but were told to wait “un momento”, so we sat back down. As the “momento” stretched to 45 minutes or more, I started to feel a bit unwell form the heat, which was unrelenting even in the shade of the airport terminal – which was open to the outside air. M. bought me a Magnum ice cream to help cool me down, which did make me feel significantly better.

Metropolitan Cathedral Eventually we passed through security with a boarding call and I figured it was so close to the 13:00 departure time that we would go through security and straight on to the plane. But no, we were penned in another lounge area, only this one with no shops and with mosquitoes in it. Furthermore, there was no sign of our plane on the tarmac, which we could now see through windows in this area. We waited until about 13:20, when the Aerogal A320 landed and taxied in to near the terminal. We had to wait for all the passengers and bags to get off, and the plane to be cleaned before we could get on. It eventually departed almost an hour late. The one consolation was that we discovered we had seats in row 2… in business class! That was actually very nifty. The seats were extremely comfortable and spacious. They even had USB sockets in the armrests, though I’m not sure what for. (The in-flight entertainment for business class had some sort of iPod function, but I don’t see why you’d ever want to plug an iPod into the plane when you could just use your own headphones anyway.) Again, we didn’t get a vegetarian meal for M. and it had been almost 8 hours since breakfast, so I asked a flight attendant if he could find something for her to eat. He apologised and said there was nothing, but then returned some minutes later with an entire veg meal that he seemed to indicate someone else had ordered but for some reason it wasn’t needed.

We landed in Guayaquil and debarked (me presumably leaving my first diary behind at this point), expecting to find an Intrepid tour representative there to take us to our hotel. But there was nobody, so we asked the information desk to contact the hotel for us to arrange a pickup. About 15 minutes later a hotel porter arrived and rode with us in a taxi to the hotel, where we checked in. Our room this time is on the ninth floor, but still on the good side with a view of the cathedral.

Cathedral front door After dumping our bags, we headed out to explore the city a little before it got late. I took my camera with just one lens, but as we went down in the lift, a friendly local woman warned us not to walk around town with an expensive camera like that exposed. She suggested putting it in a bag and holding the bag in front to make it harder for thieves to snatch. She didn’t actually speak a word of English – it was all in Spanish and gestures, but the message came through clear enough. So we went back up to our room and rearranged ourselves in paranoid mode. I put the camera in a small backpack and carried it firmly, while leaving anything else valuable except for $20 in cash behind. M. did similarly.

We walked out into the street, which was just starting to dim with the setting sun. The first stop was the great cathedral just outside. The interior was large, vast, and grand, though a bit more modern in design and decoration that a grand European cathedral – maybe a 100 years old as opposed to 500. We explored the length an width in a circuit and I took pictures carefully, popping the camera away again between each shot – though I doubt anyone would bag-snatch in a cathedral.

Next we went through the small park in front of the cathedral: Parque Seminario. This has a statue of Simon Bolivar on a horse, and around the plinth were resting three large green iguanas – bigger than any of the land or marine ones we’d seen on the Galapagos.

Urban Iguana From here, we walked two blocks to the riverside, where we joined the immense Malecón 2000, a boardwalk style path along the riverside, varying between 10-30 metres wide and populated with people: couples, families, kids, all strolling along getting ice creams from vendors or playing in the large and well-built children’s play areas. There were fountains, statues, trees, and other features making it quite a nice place. There were also lots of police, about one every 30 metres along the path. The two blocks’ walk from the park to the Malecón felt a little dodgy, like we might actually be at some risk of petty crime, but here on the boardwalk it felt relaxed, family-friendly, and very safe. I was snapping pictures with my camera without too much care, and never felt in any danger.

We walked north about six or seven blocks until we came to a restaurant called Resaca. We decided to try it. M. felt like a margarita, and the waiter said (in Spanish) that it was happy hour, with two-for-one drinks, so I ordered one too. I got chicken with mushrooms, which came with chips, green beans, carrots, and cucumber, and M. got roast fish, which was coated in a spiced crumb coating, and came with a warm potato salad and two different types of coleslaw (green and red cabbage!). The meals were reasonably good and the total rounded up to US$30 with a tip. We had a small moment of panic when we realised we only had $30 in cash with us (having left our credit cards at the hotel) and our meals and drinks added up to slightly more than that – until we remembered it was two-for-one drinks, so we emerged slightly under – assuming we’d correctly understood the waiter’s Spanish! Thankfully, we had.

After the meal we walked back to our hotel, showered, and fell into bed. We have a wake-up call at 05:15 for a 05:30 transfer to the airport in the morning. A flight takes us to Lima, and a brand new country: Peru!

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