Monday, March 31, 2014

Arrived in Galapagos

Sent from our satellite phone on arrival

We are safely anchored in Puerto Villamil on the island of Isabela in the Galapagos Islands.... The passage was frustratingly slow, so we are very much excited to be finally HERE. We have some extensive clearance formalities to complete (which includes a boat inspection) and then we can begin exploring. Yay!

Updated after the fact

Arriving in Isabela Island, Galpagos (the flag raised only after completing formalities)

[Kyle]Once we were anchored Puerto Villamil we got on the VHF radio and called JC, the man we’d pre-arranged as our agent to deal with the arrival paperwork of immigration, permits, etc. He wanted to meet at the dinghy dock in ten minutes; I explained that we had just got in and I’d need more time to prepare the dingy, etc. Even if I was already in the dingy it would take more than ten minutes to get to the dinghy dock we later discovered. He explained that the ferry to the main island of Santa Cruz was leaving shortly and that our passports would have to be on it if we were to clear in today. I said I’d do my best, and he said not to worry, he’d just sent a water taxi to collect me. It would be at Begonia in five minutes and the fare was only $1. Well, all righty then.

The anchorage was full of life, and I got my first good picture of the Storm Petrels that appear to walk on water

Ten minutes later, after taking a very sinuous low tide route to the town docks. This route included bonus passes by cavorting sea lions and a flock of the world’s only equatorial penguins, I stepped onto the dock at Isabela.

The ferry must have just landed on its way in because the landing area was packed with tourists, officials, and boat captains. I was wondering how I’d pick out JC among the crowd when he came up and introduced himself. I guess I was easier to spot since I was the only guy arriving by water taxi. He was wearing shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, appeared to be in his mid-60’s and spoke English in the gruff manner of a Mid-Western factory foreman.

We found an out of the way bench, in the shade, where he explained the fees and then collected our documents and payment. He said he would arrange an inspection at 2:30, so I could go back to the boat and rest, he would call on the VHF once they were on their way. I was back aboard Begonia 30 minutes after I left.

I helped Maryanne with the last of the checklist and then I tidied up and had a little nap to make up for having missed my usual off-watch.

At 2:30 JC called and a few minutes later a water taxi arrived with JC and five officials. There was a representative from the Port Captain’s office, a customs officer and his assistant, a fumigation guy and a park ranger. I was asked to show the park ranger through the boat (to be sure we complied with all the necessary environmental requirements for Galapágos) while Maryanne stayed in the cockpit with JC and the other four to start completing paperwork.

The ranger inspected our heads, our engines, and our fuel, water and waste tanks, as well as our trash bins. Her concern seemed to be making sure that we would not be a source of pollution in the fragile environment. Most of the officials were fairly aloof or indifferent, but she was especially friendly and seemed happy with the way things were aboard Begonia.

Back in the cockpit several clipboards with completed paperwork were thrust at me and I was told to sign here, and here, and here, and so on. Er, OK, I hope Maryanne knows what I’m signing! At some point all of the activity eventually coasted to a stop. There was a long pause where everybody looked out uncomfortably at the bay; nobody but the park ranger and JC spoke English and my Spanish isn’t good enough for idle chit-chat. I tried striking up a conversation with JC figuring I could either talk to him, or at least some of the others through him, his responses were all grunted two word answers that seemed designed not to encourage follow up. Oh, how I miss Roy from Panamá; he would hang out and talk and laugh and tell stories. JC was not Roy.

There was another long pause, during which nobody did anything but stare; I couldn’t take it. “So…. Are we done then?”. JC looked at me like I was an idiot, “yeah, we’re done”. We were not actually done. He had explained earlier to Maryanne while I was giving the park ranger the tour, but he seemed unwilling to catch me up.
Me again “OK, so what now?”.
JC: “Water Taxi”.
Kyle: “Oh, are they coming?”,
JC: “busy”
After several more agonizing exchanges like this, I was able to learn that it was the time of day when the water taxis ignore calls from small groups on yachts as they are all busy collecting tour groups needing a shuttle back to the island from the tour boats moored in the harbor. For the next 30 minutes our routine went like this: JC would grab his radio, say “Taxi Aquatico, taxi aquatic”, there would be no response, and then we’d just stare at each other for five minutes before he tried again.

Meanwhile, Maryanne was in the Salon exchanging life stories and laughter with the friendly park ranger. There are “besties” now. Maryanne is going to be a bridesmaid at her wedding {joke}. Their girly chatting made the silence in the cockpit seem even more stark by comparison. They were exchanging recipes and talking about boys {joke} while we were counting stitches in the cockpit awning {possibly not a joke}.

Finally, even after Maryanne had sweetened the cockpit crowd with candy, when we could take it no more, the guy from the port captain’s office called a guy, who called a guy, who called another guy, who called one of the water taxi skippers directly and made him promise to come right over.

Seeing it as our best chance to go ashore, Maryanne and I decided to go with the crowd. At least now we had the droning engine and the flying spray as a reason for not talking.

First encounters with the wildlife. A giant iguana, and some very laid back Sea lions take up the best seats on the beach

JC walked out near us but not really with us (had we done something wrong already?). At the parking lot, seemingly as an afterthought, he turned and asked what we were doing now?

We said we wanted to drop our laundry somewhere, get caught up on some internet (preferably at a restaurant), and then we were going to see if we could arrange a tour for tomorrow. “What are you looking to see?” he asked. I rattled off a few things we absolutely didn’t want to miss, I said we probably would start with a walking tour of the Sierra Negra volcano.

A great spot for a dinghy dock, and the walk into town is past many a prickly cactus

”I can set that up for you if you like. It will be $35 each, the guy will pick you up here at the dock at 7:25 tomorrow morning.”.

”OH… great!” I replied. “Well, that is one less thing to worry about”.

Maryanne asked if we should wait until he knew for sure we could be accommodated

”No, no, he’ll be here, 7:25am”

”Lovely, what about the Port Captain’s office,” (This was the remaining administrative obligation for us) “don’t we need to see him first?” .

JC stopped, let out a prolonged sigh, looked at her and said “Look, I’ll explain it to you AGAIN since you obviously weren’t listening the first time. You are cleared into the country, there is nothing left for you to do, all you must do is go to the port Captain’s office to check in tomorrow once you are in the computer system, you are done, just call me on the VHF when you get back from your tour tomorrow and I’ll let you know if they are ready for you.”

Maryanne had already encountered this attitude from back at the boat which I’m sure is why she asked, but this was my first experience with his preferred speaking structure which involved starting and finishing by saying the exact opposite of whatever was in the middle and being exasperated at our incompetence when asked to clarify.

Maryanne: “O… K….., It is not a problem if we do the tour first?”

JC: another sigh, “look, it doesn’t matter when you do it, as long as its done before you leave. You will be done with the tour tomorrow at 1:30 or 2pm, we’ll do it then.

”Oh, OK, great”, have a good evening, we’ll be here tomorrow evening at 7:25”.

Maryanne was holding it together rather well I though, she was still even smiling with no sign of gritted teeth.

{Maryanne: I will say that LOTS of people report great reviews about JC, I'm not quite sure how it came about he decided we were imbeciles and wanted to treat us as such, while confusing the hell out of us by changing the facts in every breath. I guess we were tired and maybe we really were a little slow, but I'm not convinced.}

Before parting ways JC gave us these really convoluted instructions for a short cut into town to find the laundry. It turned out to be only 20feet shorter than the main (direct) road, but did have the benefit of going along the beach.

Eventually leaving the beach, we stepped onto the main road of sand and volcanic ash, we couldn’t see anything that looked like a laundry while our bag of dirty linen was getting heavy, so we popped into a local hotel to ask for directions. Maryanne couldn’t remember the word for Laundromat in Spanish so she tried French, I was no help either and then I remembered it and blurted it out like a game show contestant “Lavanderia!”.

The woman at reception broke out in a big smile and gestured at the most adorable little barefoot girl, presumably her daughter. She was about eight years old, she had already lost some of her baby teeth, and she looked at us with that happy curious stare that kids of that age are so good at doing. She led us into the street and led us the two blocks to the laundry, constantly checking to be sure we were still there. It felt like a reversal of the usual arrangement; the little girl was there to be sure we didn’t get run over by crossing the road.

We deposited our laundry and pre-paid the $27 charge (figured by weight), and then chose a reasonable looking restaurant that offered wifi. We ordered dinner and two giant Ecuadorian beers with the unimaginative brand name of Pilsener, then cracked open our laptops to check back in with the world at large.

We also took a quick tour of the salt ponds to look for flamingos (who were all camera shy) and made it to the beach for sunset... ahh, so pretty.

Our hopes of a quick catch up on everything internet slowly faded. While it technically existed the internet was unusably slow, just a simple log in page seemed to take five minutes to load (we subsequently found the same issue at other bars and restaurants; the island’s infrastructure may not have been capable of much bandwidth). My fantasies of performing a detailed weather analysis for our upcoming departure by looking at lots of high detail color maps were dashed, as were Maryanne’s plans to download more podcasts.

We eventually settled for just checking the important looking emails, verifying that I did in fact get the schedule I’d worked so hard to bid for in Contadora, and obtaining an updated low bandwidth weather file like the ones we normally download with the Ham radio or satellite phone at sea. It took us two hours to do just that.

It was getting to be about 7pm, JC had earlier told us that the water taxis run regularly until 5pm, but that someone is always around until 8pm. We didn’t want to miss the last taxi home.

We headed in the general direction of the docks, popping into a couple of places offering tours along the way. We found one we liked and pre-paid the $140 fee for a much recommended snorkel trip the day after our volcano tour.

We made it to the dock by 7:30pm and were dismayed to find the place deserted. The parking lot was empty, and there were no boats milling through the harbor. Even the street lights were out. Oh, oh!

We walked the docks to be sure we hadn’t missed anyone snoozing on their taxi boat, but nothing. With nothing left to do we decided to head back into town (wondering if we’d need to book a hotel for the night) and hope we bump into someone that can help. The first place we saw people was the parks office, near the harbor. They looked as though they were closing up for the night. We apologized for disturbing them and told them our predicament. It was a relief that they seemed genuinely surprised that there was no taxi on duty, a couple of phone calls were made and we were assured the taxi captain had just popped out for dinner and would return shortly.

About half a minute later a teenager pulled up in a pick up truck and asked if we needed a water taxi. Whew! “Si, gracias”.

The ride to Begonia was impressive. The sliver of a one day old moon had already set, leaving the harbor a black expanse with a small constellation of anchor lights. The water taxi had no lights at all, not even a flashlight. It was dead low spring tides, the lowest tide of the month, and rocks seemed everywhere just below the water surface. The low tide route to the anchorage from the dock looks like a grand prix race-track.

The kid raised the outboard engine on its mount until lonely about two-thirds of the prop was submerged. He then headed into the inky blackness using only his memory as a guide. I could imagine it: head straight out from the dock 100m, turn right 30 degrees, wait until you smell penguin breath, turn left 40 degrees, wait five seconds, then turn left another 70 degrees, when you hear the little wavelets hitting the unlit moored barge ahead turn right 90 degrees, wait three seconds and then turn right another 90 degrees. When you smell kelp on your left, turn right 60 degrees, after 10 more seconds you are in deep water, you can lower the engine and punch it.

Wow! Sensei would be proud. He got an EXTRA big tip for that journey.