The next day we departed for the Galapagos Islands by plane. Because the islands are a national park, we had to go through a form of customs, even though the islands are still part of Ecuador. This is to make sure we aren’t spreading plants or animals that may harm the ecosystems. You also need to pay $100 to get into the islands upon arrival – this was covered in our costs with EF tours. The islands are also at a much lower elevation than the mainland, so we didn’t need to worry about altitude sickness.
We were told that we would see animals everywhere, but we didn’t expect to see so many on the first day. Our plane landed on the small island of Baltra, which was a US military base during World War 2. From there were took a bus to a river, where we took a 5-minute boat ride across to the island we would be staying at – Santa Cruz. At the dock we saw our first sea lion, lava lizard, blue-footed booby, and lots of pelicans. Did you know that the birds are called “boobies” because “booby” is British term for someone who is clumsy or uncoordinated – which is what these birds are when they are on land.
There are very distinct climate zones of the Galapagos – from dry and flat, arid environments populated by prickly pear cacti to lush rainforests populated by very tall Scalesia trees and bromeliads – the changes are very quick and very noticeable. We met our 3 tour guides: Juan, Jose, and Daniel. They gave us our briefing of the very strict rules while on the islands: you cannot touch or feed the animals, you cannot use flash photography, and you have to remain at least a 2 meter distance away from all animals. There were also other rules on top of this. I had expected this – as the Galapagos Islands are a World Heritage Site and extremely protected. We would follow these tour guides for the full duration of our stay in the islands.
You always had to be aware of these rules – the guides will remind you if you are seen breaking them. These rules are in place not just to protect the animals but also to protect you. In the case of sea lions, if you touch a baby sea lion, the mother may be nearby and may resort to violence to protect its young. In another instance, the pup may be rejected from its mother because sea lion mothers recognize their young through smell. The pup may not survive if it is rejected.
I tried my best to respect these rules – but I must admit it was hard at first because I wanted to get the best pictures! Best advice to anyone going to the islands – it is worth it to purchase a zoom lens!!
– Vincent Evans-Lucy