Saturday, November 19, 2011

November 2011 vacation diary - day 7

We had a good evening, returning to the hotel restaurant of the first night, where we sat at a table by the window looking down into the hotel courtyard (there’s an outdoor pool with people swimming late into the night). We had excellent food and drank lots of wine and ended the day happy. However, we were both a bit morose again the next morning. It may take a while to clear our heads completely. I’m now watching Jacques Rivette’s 1982 Le pont du nord (you can find entire film festivals that don’t show as many good movies as I carry with me) and I’d forgotten an early scene where the actress Pascale Ogier suddenly brandishes a knife. I reacted with much more visceral shock than I normally would have (intensified by knowing the actress died a couple of years later, only in her 20s). Anyway, we were up early again the next day and the hotel shuttle got us to the airport by about 6.45 – the roads were almost completely clear, and the city looked almost tranquil (we passed a big park with lots of early morning jogging and dog-walking action).

However, our section of the airport was utter chaos. We first lined up for a cursory bag check, then to buy our $10 entry permits, and then got mired in the most dysfunctional check-in process we’ve seen in quite a while. We eventually got to the front though and from there it moved quickly (although they later summoned me back out again because she’d forgotten to give me the tab for one of the bags). The flight left a little late, but nothing too serious (in addition to watching the movie, I actually did a bit of work on the plane; Ally is now reading Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom). Because of the way it came together, this trip has involved more transitions than we would ideally have chosen, but they’ve all gone well so far. And in South America it seems you still get food even on the shortest flight – usually pretty good stuff too. And in the barest-trace-of-a-silver-lining department, our carry-on baggage was somewhat lighter…given how a portion of it was stolen. We didn't have anything to tell the time, so there's an obvious souvenir purchase for the Galapagos. I mentioned Ally’s glasses were stolen, so she is alternating between wearing her prescription sunglasses indoors, using my glasses, or just making do. But we were able to email the store where she got them and they should have a new pair ready the day we get back.

When we got off the plane we were walking to the terminal among all the passengers when we came to a guy holding up our names on a card (no one else on the flight got this treatment it seems!). The guy took us to a private lounge for our hotel, the Royal Palm, where we had an iced tea while he took care of all the formalities, collecting our baggage and so on. A big bunch of hotel guests was flying outl, but no one else coming in. The airport looks cute and pretty busy, but we only glimpsed it as we were being whisked out celebrity-style. It's on Isla Baltra, which hangs just above Isla Santa Cruz, the second biggest of the islands I think. We were driven for about ten minutes out to a little ferry crossing, where we crossed in just a few minutes and were then put in another van. About five people were involved in all this, seemingly just for our benefit. After a further drive of ten minutes or so we reached the sign for the hotel. It's quite a way back from the road in magnificent seclusion, consisting of twelve villas, each standing alone at a safe distance from the others, and eight smaller units, each with a veranda, along with all kinds of amenities, mostly all in their own buildings as well. We’d booked one of the smaller units (I think the villas are around $700 a night) but since the hotel is not too busy we were upgraded! So I’m writing this at a gorgeous desk in a refuge of well over 1,000 square feet, with a jacuzzi and a beautiful old-wood decor throughout (the door key seems to belong to a fairy tale castle), and huge windows from which, glimpses of some other villas aside, the landscape stretches forever. In other words, we have comprehensively left Quito behind us. In fact, we’ve left most of reality behind us (insofar as Galapagos has any reality at all, I guess that’s where the other people on the plane must have gone to). Well, we can deal with that I think.

At the risk of place-dropping, from our past vacations it reminds us primarily of the Shamwari lodge in South Africa, where we stayed in similar (but less opulent) circumstances (and without wireless Internet or HBO!). Of course, the landscape doesn’t evoke Africa, although at first sight it wasn’t as we’d expected either – we had a general expectation of lushness, but it was surprisingly dry and rough-looking, weirdly reminding me at times of the Welsh mountain near where I was born. Of course, this initial narrow impression will be considerably supplemented in the next few days! Anyway, our schedule of touring starts tomorrow, so for today we just took a cab into the island’s main town of Puerto Ayora, about a twenty minute ride away (there seem to be no private cars on the island, but it has an enormous volume of cabs, all of which are white Toyota pick-ups). The area we drove through is very sparsely inhabited, other than one small town called Bella Vista, the main attraction in which might be a grey shack called “Danny’s Video Store.” Puerto Ayora is a bit bigger – fifteen or twenty thousand people maybe – but the primary attraction is the main street named after Charles Darwin, running partly along the water where the main port is located. It's full of restaurants and stores, many of them much classier than you get in the usual tourist trap locations. I’m sure it’s teeming at times, but today the pace of things was very gentle. We had a snack there and walked from end to end; Ally bought a watch (a Swatch with a Galapagos theme; that's all they had, watch-wise). We’ll probably return there for dinner some night. But for today, we returned to our villa, where I’m writing this as the day ends, the sky layered in pinks and blacks. If there's still a world out there, I can't see or hear it. And for now, I don't miss it a bit...

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