12/18/15 – The Boat

Boat. Lots of boat. Boat everywhere. Up, down, up, down. Water, water, water. Birds. We have arrived on our maritime adventure.

6am, we wake at our Quito airport hotel. Vacation? What vacation? The staff kindly prepares us a hasty breakfast. While Lee successfully returns the rental car, the 3 of us remaining pay the $20 Galapagos immigration fee and get our bags scanned for organic contraband. We board a mid-sized airplane that lands first on mainland Guayaquil to pick up more passengers before landing one thousand kilometers west of South America on the Galapagos island of Baltra.

We pay the $100 Galapagos park entry fee (US – no large bills) and get our bags scanned again for organic contraband. I have no idea where to find our boat. Confused tourists mill about the small airport.

Baltra Island looks lunar, absent of tall trees but populated with fan cacti. Three white wind turbines tilt near the airport.

A helpful guide flags us down and lumps us Gondrinas cruisers with the Frigata, another boat. We pile our luggage into the back of an open truck and load ourselves into a bus. We disembark at a dock on to two inflatable zodiac rafts, locally called pangas.

Soon enough, we assemble in the rocking stateroom of the Yata Frigata (Frigate bird, or “freakin’ bird,” I joke). The Golondrians have been lumped together with the Frigatans on the larger boat likely because not enough tourists signed up for either.

Lee and I on The Frigata check into Cabin 9 on the second floor at the starboard stern across from Ray and Adriene in port stern Cabin 8. I unpack my few belongings into the few drawers and cabinets.

In less than an hour, we have eaten lunch in the ship’s dining room, practiced putting on giant red life jackets, and been given an overview of the cruise week by our guide, interpreter, and naturalist, named Julio.

Although The Frigata can accommodate 8 couples, we are less than that: Jack and Wendy from Cupertino (the other Americans); a young, cute Swiss couple who speak French and little else yet to anyone; a fun German couple from Leipzig who are on extended holiday until April coming recently from Colombia and heading onward towards Patagonia (I wish I had so much time!); Jan, a road-builder from Copenhagen, slightly older (50s?) and spry, on his third tour of The Galapagos and thus the one from whom I seek guidance. So… 2 Americas + 2 Swiss + 2 Germans + 1 Dane + 4 Dudeks = 11 tourists on board. With just eleven, I understand why the tour company consolidated the two boats.

Faster than ready, we’re herded on to two pangas for a wet landing on a beach. We spend the afternoon crashing in the surf, practicing our snorkeling. From Jan’s lead, I rent a wetsuit along with flippers and a snorkel for the whole week ($35 + $25). The wetsuit shall keep me warm, buoyant, and protected from the sun. Plus, it is kind of sporty sexy.

I can’t see much through the foggy mask and I swallow too much salt water. I do see a few fish while flopping around. Mercifully, we are not out long before we climb back into the two pangas for a return trip to the Frigata (Freakin’ Boat).

Before dinner at 6pm, guide Julio introduces the other 7 or so in the crew, almost none of whom speak English. There’s the Captain, First Mate, Sailor, Chef, Assistant Chef, Bartender, and Engineer. The crew wears their natty navy whites; some sailor traditions are the same the world over. Dinner is excellent: steak in sauce, mashed potatoes, fresh juice, and cauliflower. We are going to eat well and often this week. Alcohol costs extra; Ray and I choose to dry out.

I brace after dinner for a long night. We have a six-hour portage ahead of us over open ocean to the small island of Genovesa, north of the Equator. Even before sunset (sunset and sunrise are at 6 sharp), the ship starts rockin’ and rollin’. I chow down on drowsy-formula Dramamine and expect the worst. Lee buys 3 glasses of vino tinto. Alcohol uses keeps me up, but oh well – let’s enjoy top deck for a little while.