Another Perspective on Galapagos

Being in the Galapagos, and seeing the interesting wildlife, is cool, of course. But I don’t want you to get stuck with romantic notions that might not be met should you ever come here, so here is a less-than-romantic view. First, there is the matter of getting in. Half a dozen officials come aboard, and require lots of redundant forms to be filled out, and payment of many hundreds of dollars in entry fees. You are not allowed to actually sail/anchor in the wonderful places. In our case we are limited to the two largest ports — Baquerizo Moreno being the smaller and nicer of the two. I’m told it is possible to get permission to visit three other islands, for additional dollars.

The harbors are not pleasant. Larger tour boats come in, bringing an oil slick and a stink and their excessive lights and generators. Sometimes you can both hear and smell a generator running on shore at night. It has mostly been windless. With our wind generator useless, and our solar panels relatively small, we have to run our own engine periodically to keep our batteries charged.

Dinghies are not used here — you call on the radio for a water taxi to take you ashore or aboard. While it is nice that we don’t have to rig/use our dinghy, and the dollar per person fee seems reasonable, it means there is no “casual” getting around and visiting the other boats. One has to plan their comings and goings. In Puerto Ayoro calling the taxi doesn’t seem to have much effect — you end up having to wait until one is in the area and hail it directly.

Then there are the sea lions in Baquerizo Moreno, which quickly lost their charm for us. On shore, where they haul out in large numbers, they stink. In the harbor, they are difficult to keep off of the boat (because of our steps up the transoms, which they know and love), and when they get aboard they shed and they sh*t. They also compete with each other for nice haul-out spots, so there can be middle of the night raucous commotion on deck when one tries to displace another.

But here is the major point. Getting to the “good stuff” mostly requires hiring a tour, at substantial expense. Thankfully there are a couple of places nearby that one can walk or bike or taxi to, but they are limited. The concept of “exploring” the Galapagos mostly consists of selecting which tours you want to sign up for. The wonders are undeniable. But they are fed to you by a guide who can tell you most of what you are going to see before you see it. There is a touch of Disney in it, even though it is all real.

This gets to the hard question that Robin asked in a comment. There are ever-increasing numbers of visitors (and residents) here. How do you enable them to experience the wonders without destroying the wonders? The Galapagos administration is clearly making a huge effort to preserve the ecosystem. The animals and the environment appear to be largely unaffected by the visitors. But one can no longer explore and discover on one’s own. And more restrictions will likely be needed as more airplanes, more cruise ships, and, yes, more yachts, bring added pressure to bear.

As some have quipped, the most destructive invasive species here is human!

In any case, it is time for us to leave. I wish we could have cruised to the remote areas, but that is no longer allowed. Or at least if we could have sailed to the smaller harbors, but probably they couldn’t handle a dozen boats all at once. Still, it has been a pleasure to be here. The wildlife is awesome. The people are very friendly. I was sitting in the cockpit tonight after a delicious meal aboard, watching the moon rise, enjoying the coolness after sundown, watching the monohulls rocking in the swells (being glad I was on a catamaran), listening to the distant music getting started ashore…and thinking how satisfied I am…just being here. And at the same time looking forward to what’s next.

We’ve done most of our provisioning, and we got our diesel tanks topped up. Today we do some laundry, buy a little more food (like several dozen eggs), get our “zarpe” paper that says we can leave, have a BPO-initiated meeting with some high-ranking official from the National Park (just about everything is national park), get our BPO sailing instructions, and probably have a drink and dinner with a BPO crowd. Tomorrow 8am we all get our passports stamped, and then we all head out…3,000 miles to the Marquesas. Done with using my Spanish for this trip, time to start learning a little French. No photos until we arrive, in about three weeks. Follow our progress on the CornellSailing web site!

Hey Tim, how did the big green fender work for keeping the sea lions off the boat...?
Hey Tim, how did the big green fender work for keeping the sea lions off the boat…?
Christianity adapted to the local culture.
Christianity adapted to the local culture.
Bill in no hurry.
Bill in no hurry.
Fixed price lunch (more like dinner), $5.
Fixed price (huge) lunch, $5.
Baquerizo Moreno
Baquerizo Moreno
Entertainment at a group dinner at Pablo's house.
Entertainment at a group dinner at Pablo’s house.
Iguana looking in the window of a defunct bar called The Iquana...
Iguana looking in the window of a defunct bar called The Iquana…
Puerto Ayora dock & water taxis.
Puerto Ayora dock & water taxis.


8 thoughts on “Another Perspective on Galapagos”



  2. Zeke, I like hearing all the different perspectives you offered. When i went on a catamaran for a week sail in the islands in 2004 (which was rarely under sail cuz of lack of wind), you had to book on a 1 week or 10 day tour. You had to follow a set itinerary and you had a Natl Park guide (who was also a dive guide) on your boat who gave daily ‘briefings’ and led you on tours of the different islands. My understanding was that the Ecuadorian government was very much limiting the # of boats/passengers that could be there at any one time to minimize impact on the animals (land and sea). We didn’t see many boats and there were only a few other people visiting the islands when we were there. I am not surprised that there are more people/boats there now and definately more pollution and bureaucracy. The world is changing so fast. I think the islands are a very unique place on Earth that have had a relatively minimum amount of impact from humans via protection but they’re not by far the prettiest or most interesting place I’ve visited. There are so many factors that influence an experience, wherever you find yourself. I think a strong interest in marine biology, bird watching and geology are all good reasons to go. But I don’t think it’s for everyone. In the relatively short time you were there, you got to see a part of it – both good and not so good. (I was giggling at the surprise/wonder of the sea lions when you first arrived to the different feeling about them when you were leaving!) Part of journeying, my friend. So now on to the next adventure. I soooo admire your courage to be ‘at sea’ for such a long stretch. And can’t wait to hear about what you discover next! HAVE FUN! ENJOY THE WIND IN YOUR FACE!


  3. Thanks so much for the commentary and pictures (even the blurry ones)! I have learned so much more than National Geographic tells us. Looking forward to the next leg of the journey….sail safe!


  4. Here are some questions from Red Team Rock!

    In Science class we are learning about adaptations and evolution, especially with Darwin’s finches on the Galapagos! It’s funny how you mentioned them in your blog, what a coincidence! Have you seen any finches with noticeably different beaks? What do you think about their evolution?

    Has there been any recent droughts that affected the large finches?

    Were the iguanas mean?

    Would you ever find yourself wanting to return to the Galapagos Islands?

    Were you able to touch any of the animals on the islands?

    What was your favorite part of being in the Galapagos?

    How many different species of finches did you see?

    What was the most unique species you saw?

    We are learning about Darwin’s finches and I would like to know if you saw any of the birds dying or fighting for food?

    What your favorite place you have been so far?

    We have been enjoying reading your blog about the Galapagos Islands and connecting it to our curriculum. It was nice to show the students real life examples of our learning! The learned a lot about the evolution of Darwin’s finches and natural selection. Too bad we could not visit!

    Mrs. Blais


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