Today was supposed to see the first of our day trips away from Santa Cruz, but late into the night I received a knock at the door and was regrettably informed that it had been cancelled due to engine trouble. Of course I was a little annoyed and upset, as I was rather excited. Luckily though the day was saved with a very early Sunday morning stroll down Calle Charles Darwin, where an enquiry in the only tour operator open, the aptly named Charles Darwin Tour Operator changed the course of the day.
Within minutes two half day tours had been booked, firstly the Santa Cruz Highland Tour ($30) and then in the afternoon, the Bay Tour ($25), also of Santa Cruz. To be completely honest, although both of these tours were enjoyable, I would not be recommending this tour company to anyone, as I felt receiving our money was far more important than offering a quality service, with a number of promises failing to materialize.
First off, the Highlands Tour promised a number of things including a view of Los Gemelos, two huge sink holes, apparently the same size, that collapsed millions of years ago thanks to moving lava underground. For some reason these were not viewed or spoken about at all by our guide, and not being the confrontational type I just assumed we ran out of time, something I have to pinpoint on a rather annoying fellow tourist who took photos of every single tree species that the island offered.
Not viewing the two giant holes was made better with a farm visit where the giant Galapagos tortoises can be found eating, breeding and doing whatever they like to do in their natural environment. On the two hour walk through dense tropical environments I wasn't holding much hope of seeing many of these enormous creatures, but I couldn't have been more wrong, viewing at least fifteen in a variety of positions and places. Sadly the hissing sounds they made as our small group approached made me think they would rather be chomping happily on their decaying passion fruit without having a camera lens pushed under their shells for a close up picture. A little inhospitable if you ask me! Gallivanting with lumbersome tortoises, some so large that you would need the ability to do the splits if you wanted to ride on them (which is absolutely prohibited and something, sarcasm aside, I would never dream of doing to a wild animal) was followed by a trip to some nearby lava tunnels.
Lava tunnels basically explained are underground caverns formed where lava millions of years ago melted the rock and formed underground rivers of the hot stuff, which eventually found an outlet and left these strange natural formations. As well as getting the opportunity to escape the hot atmosphere above ground, you also get to see typical cave formations such as stalactites and stalagmites and hear stories of how early day pirates and their treasures hid here from their enemies.
After arriving back into Puerto Ayora, we had 30 minutes to spare before departing on our afternoon Bay Tour, meaning a quick lunch at Gringo central, Hernan's restaurant. While tucking into my overpriced cheese toastie I came to the realization that island life certainly wasn't for me. Virtually everyone in the restaurant I had seen at least ten times since arriving on the islands only two days previous. Being in such a situation for the rest of my life, or if only for a prolonged period of time would drive me towards the edge. Small town life certainly isn't for me.
Such thoughts were made worse when sitting opposite the tour operators waiting for the second tour of the day to begin. Watching a family of tourists booking a tour, all of which were dressed identical, even down to their black socks and sandals, and cocky swagger, a swagger that even the Godfather himself wouldn't have been seen dead doing. I jokingly said to my girlfriend that I hoped this group of oddball douchebags wouldn't be on our tour. Upon saying this I noticed sitting on the next bench an older grey haired man wearing black socks and sandals grimace and give me a look of what I can only describe as pure disgust. As the family left the office, he stood up and with a cocky swagger, wobbled over to them. I'm sure he must have told his family, as I saw every single one of them at least twice a day for the rest of my time there, and every time they gave me the look of death. There was also a Billy Connolly lookalike that I first saw at the airport in Quito. Like the others he was seen most days lurking around dark, shaded areas of the seafront, his face covered in a series of guilty looks.
The afternoon Bay Tour didn't really live up to my expectations. There were the chances of seeing a small colony of sea lions, our first glimpse of the blue footed boobie, more marine iguanas, Sally Lightfoot crabs, and a variety of colourful fish seen after a spot of snorkeling. With no guide, only the boats owner and his wife, having all instructions shouted at you quickly in Spanish (my girlfriend and I were the only Gringo's) and listening to other members of the group question why a pair of Gringos would want to be on a tour where they wouldn't understand a word, was rather annoying, increasingly towards the end of the tour when the whole boat were actioning Spanish words like swim and bird. The amusing thing was we both understood most of what was being said, and for our own entertainment decided to act dumb.
The evening was spent using the ridiculously expensive satellite Internet ($2 for an hour, twice as expensive than Quito!), eating diabolical expensive pizza at Hernan's Restaurant ($16 for a medium) and admiring the impressiveness of the locals English language skills as every person seems to be fluent. Although the tours of the day didn't live up to expectations, they certainly enabled a solid basis of wildlife viewing to be set for future trips.