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Finding Saskatchewan in the Galapagos
“Why are you going to the Galapagos?” asked my sister in a somewhat agitated voice, “you don’t even like nature.” Good point, as landscapes generally bore me after about five minutes. And when it comes to landscapes, I tend to see similarities, rather than differences. My travel checklist is to meet interesting people, try different food, find local markets and collect travel stories.
Still, I had to go to the Galapagos simply because it was there. I had booked a ticket to Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador, so a detour to the islands was mandatory.
The Galapagos, Charles Darwin’s remote islands of “Origin of Species” fame off the coast of Ecuador, have long been the playground of the rich. But being on a budget, I bought my ticket, booked a one-day cruise and made a hostel reservation well in advance, as December is high season in the southern hemisphere.
As the plane landed at Baltra airport, I looked out the window and wondered if it might have been a farmer’s hayfield somewhere around Foam Lake. The airport is more like an outback airstrip you’d find in, say, Stony Rapids. Everyone lines up to have their bags searched for contraband. No, it’s not cocaine or marijuana they’re looking for, it’s plants or animals that could disturb the delicate ecosystem of the islands. Remember, nobody in Australia or New Zealand thinks rabbits are cute.
Representatives waved name tags to those booked on expensive cruises. For the rest of us, getting into Puerto Ayora – the island’s “capital” – was more of an adventure. I hopped on the free shuttle to the boat dock, paid 50 cents to cross on the ferry, then boarded the bus into town for $1.80. A shared taxi was only $5, but I wanted to travel with the locals. Incidentally, Ecuador uses US dollars as its official currency, so figuring out the conversion rates is no problem.
Puerto Ayora is a pretty dusty, run down town that could use a paint job and some street repair. A bit like the old part of Melville in the 1960s. I sniffed the salty air – shades of Manitou Beach – and enjoyed the intense cobalt blue water as compensation for the sad architecture. Later I had lunch at an outdoor cafe overlooking the harbor and people watched. In true island style, no one seemed to be in too much of a hurry. Affected by the slow pace, I exhaled and relaxed.
A white taxi truck anywhere in town was $1 so I flagged one down as it passed by. Fredy took me to the hostel I had booked and I rang the bell. No answer. So I knocked on the door. Still no answer.
What to do, what to do? Fredy understood my dilemma and in my exuberant Spanish I explained that I had a budget. He asked if $25 was okay and I nodded. Then he took me to the hotel with no name, where I met English-speaking Cecilia. The hotel was yet to have the final paperwork processed, so she could not advertise. Ensuite room with balcony and white sheets was heavenly. Really, it could have been a room in an older two or three story hotel in Humboldt or Swift Current.
My concern was that the pick up time for the cruise I had booked was at 06:00 and it was from the hostel. Fredy promised to pick me up at 05:45 the next morning. And true to his word, he was there right on time. Once all the passengers from the various hotels had been accounted for, we headed down the road for the 45 minute ride to the wharf. The flat landscape could have been somewhere around Regina. Then we got into the trees and rocks though and it was more like northern Saskatchewan, maybe somewhere close to La Ronge.
We stepped uncertainly into the dinghy that took us out to the yacht. A collection of young, old and middle-aged. And as so often happens, I was the only solo traveler. Early on I had a chat with Lauren and her mother, Elody from Johannesburg.
Once on board, we had a cooked breakfast, relaxed in the dingy, and were ferried to Bartolemo Island. There we walked up the boardwalk to the top for the “classic” view of the Galapagos. Yes, the view was “pretty”, but it was more interesting to observe the way people – strangers who met on board – interacted with each other. A middle-aged woman with an old-fashioned name – Ethel or Myrtle or something like that – took an instant dislike to me, barely saying hello and shooting me murderous looks during the day. Maybe she has an aversion to women with red hair.
On our second stop we went across the island to see the penguins. Except they aren’t there that time of year, so our only encounter with wildlife was a sea lion flopping onto the beach for a nap. But yes, it was a “nice” strip of sand with tumbleweeds, such as Efter’s Beach in the 1970s.
After lunch some of us went snorkeling. Kaitlan treaded the water beside me and looked up at the massive volcanic wall in front of us. The composition was slightly different, but it was very similar to the rocks along the Churchill River near Stanley Mission. She sighed, “You know, the scenery here is okay, but it doesn’t do much for me.” I smiled in agreement. It may have been halfway around the world, but it was a lot like Saskatchewan, except for the weather, of course, being about plus 25 in December. It was reassuring to know that I wasn’t the only person on the boat who didn’t get excited about scenery.
And people who want to experience some of the Galapagos landscape can do so in Saskatchewan. And if you live in North America, it’s significantly cheaper to get to central Canada than to fly to Ecuador and then on to the islands.
The Galapagos Checklist:
Interesting people. Tick: Cecilia, Fredy, Lauren and Elody.
Different food. Tick: The price of the yacht was recognisable, but it was entertaining to watch the chef whip up meals in a room the size of a closet.
Local markets. Tick: While waiting for the return flight – and they are always delayed – I found a kiosk at the airport offering a free Galapagos passport stamp. There I bought a cute little schnapps glass, which I use regularly.
Travel story. Tick. The day on the boat is one I’ve told a few times.
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