Author: Jody & Dave
The Galapagos Islands. Simply an amazing adventure that far exceeded all of our expectations (as you can tell from the girls' earlier posts). We were all really excited to visit them for their unique wildlife, landscape and the history of Charles Darwin's work on evolution.
Dave had really looked into how we might do this in a cost effective way. Yet, once landing on the islands, a multiple day cruise although reduced in price when booked last minute, was quite expensive for our family during this trip. So we decided to do it land based and have no regrets.
Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz was our first home base. We stayed in a hostel and unlike others so far, the hostels on the Galapagos had many more families staying in them. Being a key hub for those who want to take a cruise or day tours, Santa Cruz had all the amenities catering to visitors' needs. With shops, grocery stores, restaurants, laundry facilities, beaches and some tourist attractions, it was a great base. It also had an active town centre day and night, with a playground, skateboard area/sporting area and the pier. It became one of our favourite places to watch for and encounter wildlife during our stay.
It also had the Charles Darwin Research Centre which not only includes a beautiful park space where you can see local flora and fauna, but is an active biological research station and breeding centre for tortoises. We visited the area twice during our visit. We took in the newest tortoise hatchlings (only 6 weeks old!!) and some of the tortoises ready for release to the wild. We wandered the paths, spent time at the local beach and visited the interpretative centre where we saw some of the specimens within the Foundation's collection. From a learning stand point, this was a fascinating place that answered so many of the girls' questions about what we were experiencing. Just another reason we loved the Galapagos!
This is a leg of our trip we were fortunate to meet some really great people! Perhaps it was because we had just come from mainland Ecuador, where we found Ecuadorians to be more reserved. Or maybe because we had stayed in hostels that were friendly, but whose common areas didn't always lend themselves to getting to know other travellers. Or, maybe it was the higher number of tourists on the Galapagos wishing to share their experiences, or because we were on a small island that lended itself to 'bumping into' familiar people frequently. It doesn't matter though, it was refreshing to meet people and have these opportunities to chat.
Our first night in the Galapagos, we met a local man who not only was raised in Santa Cruz, but his father was one of the first 200 residents on the island. Beyond just being a genuinely friendly guy, he was able to offer a local's perspective on what to do, where to go and general insider knowledge about life on the island. We met a fellow Canadian couple we kept seeing throughout this time. They were travelling similarly to us, through South America, so we were able to share ideas and stories. Then, we met a couple from Ireland staying at our hostel. After bumping into them and sharing traveling stories, usually as dinner plans were being made, we decided to go out to dinner together. A fantastic couple (that made us miss our Irish friends, the Mulhearne's, very much) and who we hope to connect with again when we are in Dublin later in the trip.
Although we were enjoying our time on Santa Cruz, we wanted to see other places too. Isabela was a quieter island that could offer us the chance to see penguins, had active volcanoes and was a reasonable boat ride away. We travelled via ferry (but more like an over-sized speed boat and just as bumpy as you would expect) to Isabela Island. We had been told by a local Isabela was like Santa Cruz had been 30 years earlier, so we figured it would be quite rustic and beautiful none the less.
The ferry arrived and again, we were greeted by sea lions barking at the pier. Although a very small town, we were met by a taxi to take us to our hostel in Puerto Vilamill. Given the information we already had about Isabela, we weren't surprised to see sand roads, unfinished concrete buildings and chicken coops next to houses. It was a lot like what we had already encountered in mainland Ecuador and had become quite accustomed too. We weren't fussed. However, when we arrived at our hostel, we all longed for Santa Cruz.
We arrived to a concrete structure (yes - that's it in all its splendour in the photo) which Dave describes as designed by the same architect who did Bin Laden's bunker - a pretty apt description actually. Although the online pictures were nice, when we walked into our very hot room (about 35 degrees outside) and discovered no AC and the small stand up fan didn't work, I thought Dave might lose his mind. Then I almost lost my mind when I saw the colour of what were once white towels.
We quickly discovered we were on the outskirts of the town, so we were somewhat removed from all of the town's action. This was completely fine by us as over the course of the few days we watched locals play a specialized soccer game and discovered how island life can be. However, we also discovered we were on the not so nice side of town (again not being a very large town). This became obvious quite quickly as we walked home one night and all the lights on the neighbouring bars and saloons were out while all other businesses surrounding these had bright lights illuminating them. Not to mention the party that raged on all night our last night there (more on the reason for this later). After a quick family meeting (and maybe a few tears from a few family members), we decided we were heading back to Santa Cruz a day earlier than planned.
Perhaps you might think our decision was made in haste. After all, already, we look at this situation, roll our eyes and know that we will probably long for a place like this further in our journey. At the time, we had just fallen in love with all that Santa Cruz offered. After a good night's sleep (except for the rooster that began his call at 2 am until the sun rose - keep in mind the windows were open because we had no AC and the fan didn't work), we explored the island by bike. We started out later than we had wanted so it was very hot but the girls did great! We saw flamingos, stopped at another tortoise breeding station, chatted with volunteers about their experiences and visited a few beaches along the way. With new eyes and away from our corner of the town, we came to appreciate this rustic and stunning island even more. We all want to head back there one day but, just stay in a different spot (as we learned, it can really taint your experience).
We were in Ecuador at a unique time politically (and you know how us Danchuk's love politics). Ecuador was about to have a referendum on the day after we left. Residents were being asked to vote for constitutional reform and issues of national importance including term limits for all politicians and disallowing politicians who have been convicted of corruption from being in power. Throughout our time in Ecuador we saw posters and heard the snappy jingle echo through the streets from pick up trucks endorsing the 'SI' campaign. We saw booths set up in every town and city where citizens could go to get more information about the referendum. On our last night in Isabela we even saw a parade of locals endorsing the 'SI' side. It culminated in a party in the town square.
As Meghan's class continues to study democracy back in Calgary, this was a perfect link to her studies and led to many interesting conversations within our family and an informal comparative study. In our early research we discovered that in Ecuador, voting is compulsory between ages 18 and 65. We had some interesting discussions about this while thinking of Canada's voting turn outs.
We also discovered it is illegal to sell liquor in stores or restaurants 72 hours before an election. In stores, the entire aisle of liquor was covered by garbage bags to help make this point clear to the many tourists in the area. We did not know this until sometime into the 72 hours - much to Dave's dismay. You can imagine how the family discussion on this went, especially for foreigners ineligible to vote in said election - ha! So, this was why everyone was partying on our last night in Isabela! Made perfect sense now and made us appreciate the festivities a bit more (and with time giving us greater perspective).
Everyone (Dave) survived though, and was thrilled to see the only place exempt from this rule were the restaurants in the airport's international terminal. See, the story ended well for both Dave, and the Ecuadorians, who voted 80% 'SI' in the end.
So, the Galapagos provided us all with incredible learnings, adventures and memories, unique to each of us and as a family. For those of you who know us well, you know how much we love Maui. We all agreed though, the Galapagos gives it a tough run for its money. This was the first place on our world trip that we all were really sad to leave, but we are confident that we will return one day. It was simply spectacular!
We're the Danchuks - follow our explorations and family adventures in a wide world (2018).