A whimsical house in an ancient tree, a freshwater lake in the highlands where frigate birds come to bathe, being eye to eye with giant tortoises and watching birds from yet another beautiful Galapagos beach. These were the 4 places our driver took us after we piled into his pickup for $10usd each.
On the Galapagos the taxis are all white pick up trucks (or utes as we call them downunder). The prices vary from island to island, Santa Cruz is $1usd anywhere in town or $40-$50usd for a tour. Isabela is $1usd per person anywhere in town or $2usd per person if you need a lift at 5.30am to take an early ferry. On San Cristobal taxis are about $1.50usd and a taxi tour is anywhere from $50-$90usd depending on how many people you are, what time of year it is and how hard you negotiate. We organised a taxi through our hostel and agreed on $10usd per person to visit 4 points of interest. Although we didn’t discuss a time frame he didn’t pick us up until 1pm so we didn’t have much more than 4-5 hours of sunlight anyway. As we got closer to 1pm we bumped into more new friends and our group grew from 5 to 9. So we were 4 in the cab and 5 on the back. I think its safe to say at $10 each the driver was more than happy to load us all in, and when most tours here start at $80usd per person, we were all happy with the price.
1st stop was la casa de arbol (the tree house ) and to be fair I was just expecting a basic house in a tree, like in Baños. But no. This tree has moved beyond basic, with electricity, a warm running shower and even a flushing toilet. Decorated like a 1980s kiwi beach batch it even has a 15 metre fire pole for speedy exit if you felt brave enough. The tree itself is actually a sight to behold. The trunk is huge and they have somehow managed to hollow out a section underneath to create a subterranean room accessible through an “Alice in Wonderland” type gap in the trunk. Has to be seen to be believed.
2nd stop was to visit the fresh water reserve that sits in the crater of a longtime dormant volcano. This sweet spring saved the lives of the 1st Spanish explorers who stumbled upon the islands when circumnavigating the continent for its new ruler. The sailors were near death and had already lost two men to dehydration before miraculously stumbling upon one of the only reserves in the entire archipelago. To get here you take a road up through the highlands and the landscape changes dramatically from dry black rock desert littered with skeleton trees and cacti, to lush green banana plantations and flowers. The crater lake really is quite breathtaking, offering fabulous views in all directions out over the volcanoes of San Cristobal and beyond. To where lashings of white sand beaches meet the blue ocean. This is also the spot where the pirate-like frigate birds come after a hard days plundering other birds catches. You can observe them diving in to bathe the salt water from their feathers. They are the only species here who’s plumage does not contain enough natural fats to repel the salt water.
3rd stop was to visit La Galapaguera tortoise reserve. This is the 1st place I was able to see a giant tortuga eye to eye, and I loved it. They breed tortoises in semi captivity here, which means they have enough space to enable them to feel like they are in the wild. Tortoises have many barriers to survival. They lay perfectly round eggs in a hole and then bury them, the eggs take 2-5 months to hatch, then it takes the babies another month to dig themselves out. During this time the eggs may be trampled by livestock, or dogs and wild boars may dig them up. So the conservationists come and collect them after they have been laid, then hatch them in an incubator simulating the one month it takes for them to dig themselves out. They are then protected until they are about 5 years old and the size of a bread plate, which is when they are released into the grounds of the facility to adapt to life on the ranch. Its so fascinating to watch the very old ones creaking around, plodding one huge foot at a time, their bloated knees straining under the weight of their bulky shell. I also just love to watch them eating with their toothless mouths pulling at the green bushes and slowly chewing on the leaves.
Our final destination was Puerto Chino, another white sand beach which is too far away from town to walk and a crazy uphill bike ride away. If you book the taxi early enough they will usually drop you off here and pick you up at a specified time. The weather wasn’t nice enough when we went though so we were happy to just come for an hour to explore and watch the birds and sea lions. A very pretty spot!
We were very happy with the value of seeing San Cristobal with the taxi tour. All 9 of us took a different highlight from it and it was a good way to see another of the Galapagos Islands many faces.