We Totally scored in Galapagos. The trip was March 2 – 12. With two days of travel, we were left with eight solid days to surf, explore, learn, eat and drink.
It started with our arrival into the small airport at San Cristobal, Galapagos. It is a two hour flight straight out to sea from the country Ecuador. The first arrival to any place is always the strangest. The temperature was was warm and the air moist from recent rains. The airport was modest and one of those fully exposed to the elements. We were finally there. Months of planning and dreaming of this arrival. A unspoken relief that TGT 2007 was officially on. We located the man holding the sign that read “TGT” and loaded our luggage into a few old pickup trucks. He and another drove us all to our accommodations, a family-owned place up on a hill with a view of the San Cristobal harbor. There was a large concrete deck with ocean views as far as one could see with surf spots El Canon and Punta Carola highlighting our daily view. We rested the balance of the day enjoying the excitement a fresh arrival offers.
The next day was when it all began. Our guide was with us each day showing us surf and sights around the island. It didn’t matter if we were surfing, swimming or touring our excitement was always quelled with dissertations of the natural world around us. Our guide, Andres, wouldn’t have it any other way. Part of our Galapagos trip was going to be learning about its natural wonders whether we liked it or not. Of course we liked it and he left us with a deeper understanding of the Galapagos than we would have ever had without him. Our high school studies of Charles Darwin had come to life and there was no better education than that provided by, Andres. We visited the Charles Darwin educational center, turtle sanctuaries, and learned about flora and fauna on every walk. We even hiked to the top of an old volcano and then a nearby lake named “El Junco” while learning of the islands history. Andres was a natural teacher and the pride and knowledge he had of this place shined through at every new adventure.
The animals there have little fear of humans. Blue footed boobies, sea lions, iguanas and the red throated frigate birds were just a few of mother nature’s gifts commonly seen. Sea turtles were seen regularly, on every boat trip. Iguanas were seen laying about the rocks at every stop. “In Galapagos we don’t have seals we have sea lions” Andres would announce. The sea lions laid on the beaches or swam around you in the water as if you were part of their natural world. We were always told to not touch them, but the animals didn’t make that very easy.
Leatherback and green turtles were common sites from our boat, but Galapagos is mostly known for it’s tortoise, after all, Galapagos means turtle. The Galapagos are made up of a series of islands developed over the millennia from shifting plates and volcanos. Because of this this a variety of species of land tortoise developed … some are massive. People and sailers would eat them as they were easy to collect, store and keep alive on boats. Thanks to Andres we had the good fortune to visit, Pepe. Pepe was a huge male tortoise and the last of his kind. We went to a local home in town where a good neighbor kept him safe. We fed him lettuce and I remember his slow movements were deceiving as he was slow but not hesitant. A look away for a moment and his slow stride would have him nipping at your fingers with his powerful jaws in no time. Each mouthful of food we gave was met with the risk that fingers would be left behind. Oh and the hissing noises he made from breathing made him sound ferocious. Pepe’s shell told us that he was well over 100 years old. What a character he was. I just wonder how many generations of people he encountered during his life. I miss him. Sad rumor is that Pepe left this world and that species of tortoise along with him.
On a more upbeat note, the Surf was awesome. We had a boat at our disposal much of the trip so driving dirt roads was not always required. The boat propelled our adventures well beyond the normal accessible tourist spots. The water was not tropical, a spring suit was borderline optional. The surf was wonderful with rocky conditions and clear cool waters. Most breaks are reasonably close to town. Manglacita, La Loberia, Tongo Reef, and El Canon were all excellent breaks with light mixed crowds of locals or tourists. The surf quality was good. It was small most of the time but not so small you couldnt surf and lucky for us, we were blessed with a few very good days mixed in. The boat helped us get to the public surf spots in minutes and gave us access to other surf spots that most couldn’t reach. I don’t remember the names of them all, but I do know that surfing an empty point, or jumping off the boat and paddling with all your buddies was worth every cent.
One highlight of the trip was when Andres took us to a place called Kicker Rock. As I understand it, the rock looks like a boot in the correct light and angle. Locals call it Leon Dormido. It’s a hour boat ride out to sea. It was a rock … well almost like a butte you’d see in the southwest. It jutted out of the water for hundreds of feet up and it dropped hundreds of feet straight down, below sea level. Nothing else around it. Just a lonely rock in the open ocean – quite extraordinary really. The rock was oriented vertically with as much above the water line as below, and it was split in the center top to bottom with a water passage through its center. This crack or passage was about 60’ between and dropped to a depth of about 60’ below. If you wandered away from the split in the middle to get back to the boat the depths would increase hundreds of feet. It was wild and untouched. You could swim around the entire rock in 30 minutes if you wanted. It was well known to divers because in the deep are consistent schools of hammerheads while in the shallows you’ll find Galapagos bull and white tip sharks along with a myriad of other species.
Snorkels and fins in tow, we exited the boat into the deep and swam toward the divide in Kicker Rock. Andres led the troops. The sea life was over the top here … it really was special. The first sight through our foggy masks was just the deep dropping down into darkness … conjuring up scary thoughts in all of us I’m sure. It takes a special mindset to not let the unknowns from the deep freak you out. As we moved away from the boat toward the rock the real motion picture began. We saw schools of eagle rays lined up in formation as far as you could see till the lack of clarity faded them from view. As we swam closer toward the channel more schools of fish, shark, turtles and sea lions appeared until finally we approached the center and shallow portion of the channel. It wasn’t until the sandy background at the bottom of this channel came into focus that we really realized what was going on here. We had been swimming in a shark infested fishbowl the entire time. You couldn’t see the sharks in the deep because they blended in but with the sand background at about 60 feet below their disguise vanished. The shallower we swam the more sharks there were. The fright or flight instincts definitely kicked in. I’m sure at that moment most of us wondered if we should keep swimming forward to the shallows or go back to the boat. This was an extraordinary time in our trip – not film or photos can express the intensity each of us felt, the smallness, being out of our element as an eight-man-human bait ball, swimming in that wild place.
The people in Galapagos were wonderful and kind to tourists. Restaurants and town services were always available. Sparse overall, the economy thrives on the tourist. Very restricted as only 100,000 persons per year can visit and a guide is required for any sort of exploration. The Galapagos is known for wildlife, but there is far more to this place than that. While we were vacationing, the locals carried on with their daily lives. Kids were dressed in school uniforms, others attended to work and their daily lives. The military was regularly seen marching in the streets (there was a military base right in town). The locals at any destination are a big part of how comfortable you feel strolling about as a tourist. In Galapagos we were comfortable. One night after enjoying a great dinner in a town square we wandered into a neighborhood just to get out and feel the local buzz. We stopped to watch some volleyball players at a local park. They were playing a three-man game and each time someone lost a point that person would walk to the net and pick up a bottle of booze and take a shot … interesting enough. We were loudly rooting on the winners and to our surprise they invited us to join in. Of course we obliged and continued with a three-on-three Galapagos vs. USA tournamen. It was a great time hanging with the locals, each drinking when we lost. Yeah they shared their booze and … yeah they beat us. After being humiliated in volleyball, we were challenged to some soccer…. where we also lost miserably. Great people great location and another memorable event.
After every trip there is a time when we have to get back to reality, work and save up for the next years adventure. I think in reflection, I’d rank this experience as outstanding. Each trip we take is exciting in its own way. Having a like-minded guide at our disposal showing us everything we’d probably have missed along the way was key to success. Having access to that boat and the great surf, combined with the uniqueness of San Cristobal helped make this a trip for the record books.
One last tidbit of info worth noting. There’s a long standing argument in Ecuador and Peru as to who has the best Ceviche. As a ceviche connoisseur I’m here to tell you that several of us believe San Cristobal takes that honor.
Thank you peoples of Ecuador and Galapagos for showing TGT 2007 such a good time!