Saturday, May 11, 2013

Galapagos Islands, Day 0 & 1

D and I allow ourselves to take one vacation a year without R. Last year we went to Maui. This year we decided to think bigger, and booked ourselves on a REI cruise to the Galapagos Islands.

The cruise, although arranged by REI, was run by Ecoventura, a local Ecuadorean company, and they did a fantastic job on both logistics and service. In fact, the only negative parts of our trip were the flights to/from Guayaquil, and D getting seasick on day 2, but luckily that was quickly resolved with scopolamine patches.

More on the flights: when researching itineraries, I quickly realized there was only one option if we wanted to fly one-stop to Guayaquil, and it was American Airlines. Given our past experience with AA (extensive delays flying back from Lima and Buenos Aires) I really didn't want to book with them, but they were the cheapest by several hundred dollars per person, and I hate additional stops, so in the end we did buy AA tickets, but decided to schedule our arrival in Guayaquil one day early "just in case".

On departure day, we got up at 4am and got to the airport in time to check in for our 6:15am flight. Boarding went smoothly and we were about third in line for takeoff when suddenly the plane turned around and returned to the gate. The pilot came on the PA and said that maintenance had forgotten an item on the checklist and we'd have to deplane while they completed it. He estimated our delay at an hour. Of course, an hour later, the news was that a part needed to be replaced, and we'd have to wait another hour. I started to worry about our connection despite having scheduled a four-hour layover. Sure enough, an hour later, we were told that the part wouldn't arrive for another two hours. We lined up to talk to the gate agent about rebooking our connection, but I'm impatient so I got on the phone with AA customer service as well. After 10-15 minutes, I was finally on the line with a real person when the flight was cancelled entirely. I quickly got her to put us on the next flight to Miami (9pm) and she rebooked our connection flight for the next day. We were told that we could ask the agents in Miami for hotel/meal vouchers when we arrived.

That evening we returned to SFO to board our 9pm flight, which actually took off this time. Upon arrival in Miami at 5am we tried to get our hotel/meal vouchers and were rebuffed by two different gate agents who said we needed "authorization" or needed to talk to customer service who opened at 8am. We finally got ahold of an operational supervisor who seemed quite angry that we'd been given the runaround and promptly issued us our vouchers. She wanted names but unfortunately we'd been too tired to note them down. We went to our hotel and slept for about five or six hours, before connecting to Guayaquil without incident.

The next morning we went back to the airport to join our tour on the local flight to San Cristobal. We found the Ecoventura rep quickly, but something went wrong with D's ticket and we had to wait twenty minutes to get his boarding pass, which was a little stressful, but at least it would have been the tour company's problem as well as ours.

Upon arrival in San Cristobal we were greeted by our guides, both named "Jose Luis" and both nicknamed "Pepe". Twenty of us boarded our ship, the "Eric", and after settling into our rooms we were given a safety briefing, followed by crew introductions and a welcome cocktail they called the "red-footed booby". It was quite sweet and tasty.

Our room:

In the afternoon, we only had time for one outing; to the La Galapagugra Cerro Colorado Tortoise Preserve in the highlands of San Cristobal. There we saw our first giant tortoises, and also saw some baby tortoises which were being kept in captivity for their protection for 2-5 years. Once tortoises are over 2 years old, they have no natural predators.


Back on board we were served a very nice three-course seated dinner and then we retired to our cabins for the night.

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