Wednesday, November 23, 2011

November 2011 vacation diary - day 11

We had to get going early today – at 6.15 am, to catch a cab down to the main road, and then a bus to the port, and then a dinghy to the boat Narel, and then a two and a half hour journey on the boat, during which they served breakfast. I suppose that if one were doing the Galapagos on a cruise ship, as I believe most people do, then the transitions between locations would be part of the whole experience and wouldn’t feel as much like a specific task. On the other hand, a cruise ship – we imagine – would have been a much more claustrophobic and repetitive experience. We’re glad we’re based on land anyway (being sick on a ship would probably have been especially dire). Either way though, it feels like you spend a huge amount of time stepping in and out of dinghies – ten times today alone I think. We arrived at Bartholome island, the furthest of our destinations on this trip, although if you look at the standard map of the islands, everything we’ve been doing has been concentrated around a tiny little chunk of the whole.

Narel was the same boat as we took the other day – it holds around sixteen people. On the previous occasion the tone was dominated by a few Americans who were shamelessly, at times almost operatically, preoccupied with talking about themselves. This time round, the pace was set by a group of two Indian families, including four kids, who seemed pleasant enough but inevitably slowed everything down to a crawl. I’m not sure this is an ideal location for kids to be honest – somewhere more straightforward might be easier for them to take. Anyway, we walked slowly up to the island’s highest peak, allowing us some bleakly striking views of surrounding islands. Bartholome is a fairly new island in the scheme of things, a million years old or so, entailing not that much grows or lives there (a few iguanas were hanging out where we disembarked, but that’s about it).

We returned to the boat and travelled a short distance to an adjacent beach (to avoid further mishaps, we left the ipad on the boat, so have no pictures of this section of the day). First we walked the narrow width of the island to another beach, where the water was fairly full with turtles and sharks and other fish. We returned to the first beach where Ally went snorkeling, much more productively than the other day. She saw a couple of sea lions, came face to face with a shark, spotted an enormous starfish, encountered a lonely penguin and a solitary iguana hanging out on a rock together, accompanied by some crabs (this is one of the sweetest things about the Galapagos – the sense that a Disney-like vision of bonds between species actually holds sway) as well as some very colourful fish. I only went into the water briefly – I mostly just lay on the beach. I was feeling mostly recovered from yesterday, except for persistently aching legs.

We returned to the boat after an hour and a half or so, had lunch, and then took the two and a half hour boat ride back. Most people slept for a good chunk of it, including me (but not Ally) despite the very choppy water for the first stretch of the journey. We didn’t get back to the hotel until around 5.30 pm, nearly a twelve hour excursion. Although the trip had some fine moments as I’ve described, in all honesty they were a bit thin relative to the time invested. And at the risk of sounding like a whiny kid myself, we didn’t see that many animals. The magic of the Galapagos lies in its famously rich and unique ecosystem – it seems to be missing the point to spend a day mainly on mountains and beaches. Or I suppose that by saying that I’m just missing the point in a different way. Anyway, we were happy enough that I was healthy enough to do it and that nothing went wrong (this is how we’ve adjusted our expectations downward now).

This would have been one of our most expensive vacations even if we hadn’t suffered those additional losses (if you count those in of course, it’s far and away the most expensive). As I mentioned the other day, the supply and demand curve drives up the cost a bit. Beach space for example is meticulously allocated to different groups, arriving and departing at specified times with minimal overlap. If you miss one of your scheduled tours, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to book another one. It sounds like some of the lesser tour operators organize outings without securing the permits to stop at the main points of interest, a recipe for obvious second-rateness and customer disappointment. Although much of what we’re doing was prepaid, there’s a constant expectation of tipping – according to the guidelines we were given, at least $20 per person a day for the guide, maybe half that for the boat crew (it’s not hard to observe many people, including those big-talking Americans, fall far short of this!) Maybe there's a way to do this trip on a budget, but we didn't find it. Mind you, I guess we didn't really look for it either...

We ate in the hotel tonight, although I was not very hungry and only managed an appetizer. We had some wine though; I don’t think we’ve ever gone through a bottle as slowly. I got some aspirin from reception which took care of my aches at least. I fell asleep almost as soon as we got back, while Ally was watching TV; I'm writing this once again in the early hours of the morning. We have one day left, but I can’t pretend I have any great ambitions for it: my mind is focused almost entirely on getting home. While that’s always true to some extent at the end of a vacation, there’s a particular urgency attached to the sentiment this time round.

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