During the flight from Quito to the Galapagos, a noteworthy event was when the stewardesses walked through the plane and sprayed insecticide in all of the overhead luggage compartments. So for the last 20 minutes of the flight, we all had to smell the faint odeur of Galapogean Raid™ (hopefully it wasn’t anything worse).
We landed at the airport on Baltra Island. There are actually two airports in the Galapagos Islands; the other one is on San Cristobal. Baltra Island has an interesting history, first inhabited by the United States military during World War II, then decommissioned and returned to the government of Ecuador. Most of the structures built by the US have been deliberately razed to prohibit settlement here, according to our guide. The airstrip remains from that time, with improvements.
The airport itself is really a hangar with partitions and freestanding box rooms scattered about. It has “windows” that are just frames and huge ceiling fans to provide some relief from the 85+ degree heat outside. The fans and lights, etc. are powered by two huge wind turbines just outside, presumably. Once arriving on the island, everyone must go through customs where you pay the national park entrance fee, which is currently $100 for foreigners and $6.00 for Ecuadorians. You get your card and are told to carry it with you at all times, just in case you are asked to prove you are visiting legally, along with a photocopy of the ID page of your passport. We found out that all Ecuadorians have to carry ID cards at all times, since they might be stopped on the street and have to prove citizenship. (We actually saw two young men in Quito being stopped by police, showing their ID and letting the police look through their backpacks.)
Once you exit the airport, everyone scurries to the waiting buses with their luggage, unceremoniously stowed in the cargo area under the bus and we’re off on a 20 or so minute ride to the ferry.
The island of Baltra is a desert environment, flat and full of volcanic rocks, scrub plants and cacti. It is barren, but beautiful. It looks inhospitable, wild and primitive.
At the ferry, the luggage is tossed on top and guests file in to sit on benches for the 10 minute ride to Santa Cruz Island. The ferry gives you the first close look at the islands, with the black volcanic rock, mangroves, waterfowl, and colorful fish swimming just beneath the water’s surface. It gets your heart pumping, for sure – You’re really here, now!
Very soon it’s obvious how little fear the local wildlife has of humans. Since all wildlife on Galapagos is protected by national law, the local fauna is more curious than fearful of tourists, and often completely ignore you if they’re busy looking for their next meal.