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!