GALAPAGOS Day 1: An afternoon of free activities and seafood in Puerto Ayora

On our 1st afternoon in the Galapagos Islands we spent $0 and saw sea lions, sharks, red crabs, sea iguanas, land iguanas, giant tortoises, little lizards and sooooo many amazing birds… Although people write it off as an expensive destination there is plenty you can do here on a budget. With regards to food and accomodation the Galapagos is cheaper than Brazil, Chile and Argentina! If like us you’re mainly interested in seeing the wildlife, you don’t actually have to take a cruise for $1000s of dollars.

Our first activity was to visit the Charles Darwin Research Centre. Although it is walkable from Puerto Ayora we borrowed bikes from our hostel (Patty’s House) and rode up here to explore. As an introduction to the archipelago it doesn’t get much better than this. The research centre is set up to offer tourists a taste of the important scientific research that takes place on the islands. While it only houses a fraction of the total collection of species from the Galapagos (the remainder of which is kept safe in temperature controlled storerooms) it’s a great way to get your mind into the space of “Darwin’s Galapagos” and to start noticing the diverse range of flora and fauna.

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Bird specimen endemic to the Galapagos Islands

The work they do here is inspiring. About 15 years ago there was a huge threat to the survival of the native mangroves by way of a little pest called the cottony cushion scale, introduced from Australia. With funding, scientists were able to set up an insect quarantine centre to run tests to find a natural way to control the pest problem. They tried introducing the cottony cushions number one predator, the Australian ladybug. Over the 2 years of controlled testing scientists deemed the ladybug safe to release and had great success. By 2012 the problem was back under control with 99% of the problem naturally eradicated.

Surrounding the centre itself you can find oooodles of animals, at the nearby beach we saw hundreds of black sea iguanas sunning themselves and snorting out salty seawater. The black rocks nearby were littered with fluorescent orange crabs and we found a sea lion sunning himself on the next little beach over.

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Fascinating and stinky: These dragon like creatures have evolved from other Iguana species found throughout Central America. They now eat seaweed and can dive and hold their breath so they thrive in the harsh conditions of the Galapagos.

Just a kilometre or so further along the road from the centre itself you’ll find a few pens with huge, beautiful tortoises. These old dears are larger than life and move as though they’re the geriatric dinosaurs of the modern world. The boys are much larger than the girls, but the girls are still bigger than any tortoise I’ve ever seen. The most famous tortoise on the islands was a fella named Lonesome George. Lonesome unfortunately passed away in 2012 which marked the extinction of his subspecies, so he is now a symbol of the environment. The ghostly reminder of just how fragile our ecosystems are.

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The Galapagos tortoise can weigh up to 500 pounds!

A little further along you have an enclosure with the yellow land iguana, who are very cool. We didn’t actually see these guys out in the wild on any of the inhabited islands we visited so this was a nice highlight. It was interesting to notice the iguana and the tree both shedding their orangey coloured skin.

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The land iguana evolved differently from the sea iguana and live of cacti flesh

After the Charles Darwin centre we headed to the fish market to see what had been hauled in. There were a bunch of locals checking out the catch as well as a couple of very cheeky seals boldly waiting around for any scraps. We had a kitchenette at our place, but I was feeling too hungry to cook, it was going to need to be instant gratification for me!

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The fish market in Puerto Ayora is a fascinating spectacle of animals interacting with the locals in their day to day life.

Cheap eats: Charles Binford Street is the place to go for cheap seafood. Set lunches $3-5 for a soup, main and a drink. Mains could be chicken, pescado fito (fried fish) or epic cerviche (raw fish marinaded in lemon juice, Ecuadorians serve with popcorn and rice). We loved the restaurant with the Dulce Cafe sign. I’m not sure if that’s exactly what it says but it’s the only one that has a cake shop sign. During dinner time they fill the street with tables and chairs and you can get a whole langostino (lobster with no claws, in NZ we would call it a crayfish) for $15-$25 depending on size, or fresh fish. Im teetering on the brink of vegetarianism but grew up having crayfish as a super special treat so I couldn’t walk past this one. I must say though, the irony was not lost. All these people here to appreciate the natural reserve but also happy to choose the biggest most active of a species for dinner that night. It’d be different if it was sea lion or tortoise they were serving up though I’m sure!

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One night I cooked a crayfish in our little apartment… It was very traumatic.

The last thing we did for the night was to watch the baby reef sharks and the pelicans swimming and fishing in the light of the waters near the main pier. This was a lovely surprise and very cool to watch the ominous grey shapes darting around disrupting schools of fish while giant pelicans dived at them.

All up (not including costs of getting there in the morning) we spent $58usd ($78aud) between 2 of us on food and accomodation.

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