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What have we been up to? Part 2: A Day Trip to Floreana

Floreana, Galapagos

Our very original plan for the month in the Galapagos was:

  • 2 weeks on Santa Cruz (main economic hub of the islands, where we would get scuba lessons)
  • 1 week on Isabela (largest island, beautiful beaches, supposedly the coolest hotel)
  • 1 week on San Cristobal (official capital of the islands, has airport and TONS of sea lions)

This plan changed when we started talking to locals who said that one week each on Isabela and San Cristobal was much too long and we should do our best to try and stay one or two nights on Floreana, the fourth and last inhabited island. Because we couldn’t adjust our Isabela reservation we decided to cut a couple of nights off of San Cristobal and go from Isabela to Floreana. We didn’t understand the ferry schedules when we did this. 🙂

The ferry schedules are limited. Which is really a nice way of saying that the schedules and how ferries are handled here in the islands make almost no sense. You have to experience it for yourself. It’s almost not describable. You pay ($30 one-way) and sometimes you get a ticket, sometimes you do not. Sometimes you get told your boat. Sometimes you do not. When you get to the pier the captains of each ferry are waiting with a hand written list of who is supposed to be on the boat. You find your name, tell them that is you and then board. Ferries never leave on time, people are added and subtracted at the last minute and the captains are on the phone constantly trying to clear up reservation issues. If you do not speak Spanish (like us) it is a bizarre situation. That is how every single ferry does business. From the hub of Santa Cruz there can be several boats leaving at the same time going to the various islands. There might be 12 total ferries running a day from Santa Cruz and not a single one has figured out how to make the operation go smoother. Only Santa Cruz has direct ferries to the other islands (San Cristobal, Isabela & Floreana).  When you look at a map of the Galapagos this makes sense. But they haven’t figured out how to make smooth connections if you want to go from say San Cristobal to Isabela or like in our situation from Isabela to Floreana. The layovers could be more than six hours or the next day. The trip that we wanted to make (Isabela to Floreana) would have taken more than 24hrs even though we would only be in a boat for four hours. This would not work.

We adjusted our schedule and moved back our stay on San Cristobal by two days and replaced it with two more nights back on Santa Cruz (this was our first island we arrived at in Puerto Ayora). Since Santa Cruz is the hub, it was easy for us to arrange a day tour to Floreana. We booked it last minute on Tuesday night to head out at 9 am Wednesday morning. Booking last minute helps you get a better deal as the local travel agencies find you an open spot on a tour boat going. We paid $70 each which seemed like a good deal from talking to another couple we met who paid $90 for the same thing.  You pay in cash the night before or the day of and basically show up the next morning with a small day pack, sunscreen, our snorkel gear etc. They are pretty casual about it all and don’t tell you much detail about the trip other than a quick powerpoint presentation or video when booking. We had an idea about what to expect based on our conversations with others who had done it.

So fast forward to 9 am the next day, we meet at the tour shop and walk over to the main dock to board a water taxi that takes you to the main boat. There was about 20 other people in our group and we had two naturalist guides- one doing the tour in Engish and one in Spanish. It’s somewhat chaotic boarding the main boat and figuring out who all should be on the boat, who has tickets etc… you write your name down on a sheet of paper and thats about it. I should mention now there was an interesting couple on our boat…what looked like a 50 year old man and an 18 year old girl, yeah kinda odd. I guess you just don’t see that big of an age difference very often and at first glance I thought oh dad and his daughter, till they started kissing with tongue and holding hands. Then they busted out a selfie stick and used it non stop, no joke they probably had about 30 photos of them on the boat before we even departed. Hah. To each their own 🙂

Anyways back to the main story. It’s about an hour and half boat road over to Floreana. Half way through the trip we had a few passengers experience the dreaded sea sickness. Barf bags were handed out and and we played musical chairs to get the girls near the back corner of the boat and they were all set. I feel pretty fortunate (knock on wood) that I don’t ever get sea sick and actually enjoy the waves..it didn’t look like fun for those girls.

So we arrive, deboard the boat and the guides tell us to use the bathroom if needed before we grab a cab up to the highlands to see the giant tortoises. Ok good, I have to use the bathroom and so does Jeff and a few others. We walk towards the facility  and this lady appears out of nowhere holding a tin can to collect money to go… $0.50 per person. Well, that was a first. I just assumed the bathroom facilities would be included in the tour price?  I don’t know what I dislike more: a person collection money to use the bathroom or a bathroom attendant inside working for tips…

First stop is the tortoises. Jeff and I had seen quite of few of these guys by now but every island really likes to advertise their tortoises and their breeding center and yada yada yada so we were meagerly excited for this part. Turns out we had a great show, happy tortoises! They were mating and we caught some footage on video, check it out here.

 

Happy Tortoises

Happy Tortoises

Kisses?

Kisses?

Lunch time for the tortoises. They get fed a plant called Otoy once every 3-4 days.

Lunch time for the tortoises. They get fed a plant called Otoy once every 3-4 days.

Next, we headed up to the only fresh water source on the Island. It’s more of a slow drip from a rock than a waterfall but pretty interesting. At this time we were a bit behind the Spanish speaking group because our guide let us watch the tortoises mate for about 20 minutes longer- of which the group all enjoyed. After the fresh water source we hiked a bit more to a cave in the cliff and the guide gave us a bit of the history of Floreana. I won’t get into the details here, but it’s a very interesting story of the first settlers, the drama that existed so many years ago and the mysterious disappearances of some. The story is fascinating and In 2013 “Satan Comes to Eden” was released based on the mystery of Floreana. The story is really quite interesting.
Inside the cave where the first baby was born on the Galapagos Islands

Inside the cave where the first baby was born on the Galapagos Islands

Face carved into a rock on Floreana

Face carved into a rock on Floreana

Ok next stop was lunch, and note the other group was already there and eating because we took so dang long watching tortoises mate. Lunch was pre-ordered. This is pretty common here in the Galapagos for large tour groups- it helps ensure the restaurant is ready, has enough food and can try to serve everyone at once. We had the standard meal of the day with a choice of chicken or fish, fresh juice, rice and a salad with some watermelon for dessert.  The food was just fine, we we’re all pretty hungry after the hike so everyone scarfed it down quickly.
After lunch it was time to snorkel on black beach. Luckily we brought our own snorkel gear because they don’t really supply it or give any direction on how one should get it before the tour. The snorkeling was really nice, the water was quite chilly (but I am not complaining, it’s nothing compared to 20 below zero winters in Chicago) but made for very good visibility. We saw a few white tip baby sharks and tons of fish. They give you about 2 hours at the beach to snorkel, relax etc. Oh, and back to that interesting couple I mentioned above, they put on a nice little PDA show at the beach basically mounting each other in the shallow water the entire time. It was pretty comical. Black beach is not too big and consists of  two or three hotels to stay at. If we had decided to stay overnight there that is really the only option for accommodations. Around 3 pm it was time to pack up and head back to Santa Cruz. After the group boarded the crew kindly blasted club music from the early 2000s through the speakers – but it didn’t prevent everyone on the boat from passing out after a long day.
We really enjoyed ourselves and glad we made the trip to see another Isand. Florenana is the 4th inhabited island with the smallest population of about 200 people and some very interesting history. I would recommend the day trip to others or make sure it’s a stop on the itinerary of a live aboard boat.
A view of black beach on Floreana

A view of black beach on Floreana

Jeff sitting on black beach after some snorkeling

Jeff sitting on black beach after some snorkeling

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