Sunday, August 23, 2009

Final countdown.

Our last day on the Galapagos. It had been great but all this getting up at dawn and go go go was wearing us down and we were looking forward to heading back to Guayaquil to just chill out. What we weren’t looking forward to was saying goodbye to Beat, Joy and Stacey and heck we’d even miss the boys. They were all staying on for the full 8 day tour. But for us this was the last full day. I don’t know whether if it was because we were near the end but when we woke up despite or hours on the back of a horse, but neither Adrian nor I were achy when we woke up. The only evidence of our ride was a lovely saddle sore on my butt cheek from where the saddle had rubbed during the uncomfortable trotting. Good thing that was it was because we had some hiking to do today.

After breakfast, Marlon led us across the Tintoreras islet. It was home to many sea lions and a huge colony of marine iguanas. While the sea lions often barked their displeasure at us tromping through their areas, the iguanas could have cared less and they were so thick they often completely covered the path. It was difficult to avoid stepping on them but we did our best and none of them dropped their tails in defense. As awesome as all these guys were, they weren’t the reason we were there. The islet was names for the Tintorereas or white-tipped reef sharks. And as we walked further, there were signs warning us not to go swimming in the water. As we got to the water’s edge we could see why. Down below, Marlon pointed out a dozen sharks resting in the shallow water. They looked dead but they weren’t. The water in this area is so rich in oxygen that the sharks can catch some z’s here before heading out in the evening to hunt. In fact that’s the reason that the boats can’t go out on the water after 6pm – too many hunting sharks. Now the boats are probably not allowed out because it would disturb the sharks’ natural lifestyle but I liked to imagine that they were kept in the harbour because they would attack the boats like Jaws. That’s right, my fear of sharks was as strong as ever so I much preferred watching them from dry land.

When we’d had our fill of shark watching we continued walking across the sandy islet and met a small boat which ferried us across the water to the other side for our last snorkeling trip stopping so we could check out some penguins in the rocks. Before we could hop into the shallow water, the ever smiling Marlon got all serious. This was a special place where sea turtles hung out and rested and he instructed us not to hassle the wildlife here. He promised if any of us misbehaved he would end the session early. Gulp. The only thing I could hope was that this meant we’d see something really awesome. I only had one photo left on my disposable camera so I hoped so. And as soon as we plopped into the water we were swimming eye to eye with a giant sea turtle. I snapped the photos and crossed my fingers it would come out (photo above). There were schools of beautiful fishes everywhere often engulfing us and off in the distance even more sea turtles. As I was looking off at them Stacey and Joy suddenly motioned frantically underneath me. I just about jumped out of the water when I noticed the huge shape just a foot underneath me. Joy and Stacey laughed at my reaction. It was a sea turtle that was swimming with me before moving on when I freaked out. But that was okay because just ahead I floated in the midst of four sea turtles just chilling on the bottom. They weren’t doing anything but it was one of the coolest things just hanging out in the middle of them until a family with a screaming kid entered the water nearby and the turtles scattered – sigh, I guess they hadn’t gotten Marlon’s lecture. Marlon let us hang around the area for a lot longer than he was supposed to. But eventually we had to get out of the water and head for lunch.

With full stomachs (even the boys) we headed off west to the wall of tears. It wasn’t much to look at – a 20 foot tall wall of stacked rock. However, the story of the wall was more impressive or depressive. Back in the 20th Century, Isabela Island was actually a prison camp. And to keep the prisoners busy, they were forced to build this wall. There was no point to the wall other than punishment and as a way to thin the prison population – you see, weaker prisoners died under the strain of the exercise while other died when the unstable wall collapsed on them both of which happened regularly. Eventually, the prisoners rioted and in 1958 the prison camp was closed but the wall remained as a reminder. We climbed the stairs to look down on it.

“You can walk out on it,” Marlon suggested shortly after telling us all about the collapses and deaths. Um, no thanks. However, daredevil Joy eagerly jumped out on the wall. As she walked out Marlon warned, “ but don’t go any further because it’s not safe.” Joy quickly made her way back to us. Marlon then tried to convince us to continue to climb up to the top of the 100 stairs to take in the view. I looked around at the misty foggy scenery and decided to stay where I was. And I was glad I did since the others came down out of breath and telling me they’d seen nothing. We hiked back to the van for a stop at the flamingo lagoon. Two flamingos were standing in the shallow water but were either sleeping or hiding from us. We all got lots of pictures of flamingo butts before deciding to head back to the van. As we turned away one stuck his head out – proving that they were definitely hiding from the tourists. But we managed to get a shot before we zoomed off.

Back at the hotel I realized that despite the drizzly overcast weather, there was still enough sun to give my back a little rosy colour during our 1 and half hours of snorkeling. Well all of us, since none of us had bothered with sunscreen. But it was mostly harmless. We changed and grabbed our luggage and then it was time for the part of the day I was least looking forward to – the boat ride to Santa Cruz. After yesterday’s hell on seas, I braced myself for the worst but was pleasantly surprised by the ride. Don’t get me wrong – the sea was still full of 10 -15 foot swells but we appeared to traveling in a better direction. The boat went up and down – sometimes violently but at least we weren’t going left and right and some of us even managed to take a nap. I was happy not be terrified but poor Stacey got a case of the greens. The brave girl did not throw up and we all made it to shore thankful to be on land again. I was doubly happy because that was Adrian and I’s last boat ride, woohoo.

Santa Cruz was much different from the rest of the islands. The harbour was full of giant cruising yachts and the town was full of galleries, restaurants, internet places and all other signs of tourist activity, including lots of tourists. Adrian thought it was great but I hated it. Good thing we were only spending a night here. But it also meant that a lot more eating options and the restaurant that night did not disappoint as we dined on thick seared tuna steaks. Yum. The boys ditched us as soon as dinner was over. But Joy, Stacey and Beat joined Adrian I for goodbye drinks. We all enjoyed fruity girlie girl drinks (well I had a beer) and exchanged emails and contact info. Good people and good fun. They were the main reason we would have wanted to stay. As we were sitting there enjoying our drinks, Adrian shouted in disgust.
“Look at that,” he pointed to a neon lit tourist train that ferried tourists around the town, “in another few years, it’s totally going to be Disney-fied.” Yup, Santa Cruz was incredibly different. We all scoffed at it at first but the third time it went around Joy and I looked at each other.
“Let’s get on next time it comes around.”
Just as we decided to go for a spin and embrace the tackyness of Santa Cruz, the neon train turned off its lights and headed to the garage. We’d missed our chance. Oh well, it was time to turn in anyhow. It was getting late and Adrian and I had to be up at 5am to squeeze in one last tour before breakfast and our flight to the mainland. Just like the train we were done. Almost.

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