Sunday, September 4, 2011

Exploring the Galapagos Part 1: By Land

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When visiting the Galapagos Islands there are two ways to structure your trip- by boat or by land. If you choose to go by boat you can choose from a number of different boat sizes and itineraries and get to visit many islands usually in a weeks time. If you go by land than you can visit only a few of the islands that are inhabited by people and can take day boats between the islands. I wanted a chance to experience both so I did a week on land a week on boat and I can say with 100% confidence that my week on land was a complete and total disaster and both money and time very poorly spent. It was so bad in fact that my tour operator is giving me a refund so I will not call out the name here. However I will call out the company she booked me with and the hotels I stayed at because their service was deplorable. The cruise portion of the trip was booked with Quasar, which was a great cruise- it wasn’t without its problems- the quality of the staff was sub-par, which was surprising for a luxury cruise especially after the amazing service I had just received at a jungle lodge in the middle of the Amazon!

My land portion part of the trip was a disaster from the first minute when I got off the plane and no one picked me up to the last minute when I had to walk myself to the boat not sure of where I was going and who I was meeting. It seems very clear to me that the people on the islands care very little about what the people off the islands think and trying to call people from the Quasar office back in Quito had zero affect on the actual situation on the ground. I would be on the phone with someone from Quasar who would tell me one thing and say it was a definite and then I would hang up and my guide would say no that’s not what’s happening at all and give me a completely different itinerary. Basically every single thing went wrong- I didn’t have any of the private guides I was supposed to have and the one I did get finally did not speak great English, knew nothing about the ecological history of the islands and spent a good portion of our time together on his phone while I photographed and asked him to be quiet because I was trying to film video. The pilots also went on strike while I was there so I had to take horrible nausea-inducing boat rides between the islands and spend one of my precious few days stuck on a horrible group tour on Santa Cruz- an island I wasn’t even supposed to be on- where I got bit by fire ants and over a month later I still have the scars from them. The hotel Quasar put me with in Isabela- Red Mangrove was not great. The rooms were fine, but the service was horrible as was the food, which was included in the price. I got a lot of run around and never quite figured out if it was Red Mangrove or Quasar who messed up all my land based travel, but I would not recommend booking with either of them.

The best part of the trip was the hotel suggested my travel agent while I was on San Cristobal named Casa Opuntia, which was right on the boardwalk. I spent both my nights there eating wonderful lobster ceviche and the restaurant next door and then walking the boardwalk with an ice cream cone while watching hundreds of sea lions settling in on the beach for the night. Walking along the Boardwalk (Malecon in Spanish) during the early morning is also really fun because you get to see all the sea lions lounging around on benches and and the playgrounds.
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Casa Opuntia also helped organize a day trip for me on my day in San Cristobal when Quasar’s guide never showed up and I had a great afternoon visiting El Junco Lagoon, Playa Chino and the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center- all spots I recommend visiting if you have some time on San Cristobal.
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The other great moment of the trip was the afternoon I was taken around Isabela Island by Mathias Espinoza who I had read about in Carol Ann Bassett’s great book Galapagos at the Crossroads. I had sent many distress calls to my travel agent and she had a friend send him over to rescue me. He was great, but it was also sad because it showed me what the trip could have been. He took me around the town, which my other guide hadn’t shown me and I didn’t even know existed and we visited a beautiful beach with marine iguanas and blue-footed boobies and then we visited a lagoon to see some flamingos. He runs a dive shop called Scuba Iguana and although I’m not a diver so didn’t do any dives with him I highly recommend him because he is smart, nice and an all around awesome guide!

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