It's amazing how time flies by when you keep yourself busy. Thanks to the incompetence of TAME airlines, I now had an extra day to enjoy the Galapagos before returning to reality and the life of an English teacher.
Apart from scuba diving, which I have never tried in my life, the options of tours and trips from Santa Cruz had been exhausted and I thought a fitting tribute would be to return to Tortuga Bay, the spot where I had proposed to my girlfriend just over a week earlier. To be honest though, my reason for venturing here, was not to reflect on what should be one of the biggest stepping stones of my life, but for the very childish reason of wanting to jump through the waves, something I hadn't had the pleasure of doing since my last family holiday a good twelve years earlier in the quaint English seaside town of Paignton, on the south coast.
You wouldn't believe how excited I was at such a prospect, and the two kilometre walk went by in a flash. Upon setting foot on the hot volcanic sands, I realised what a good judgement call I'd made a week earlier. Today, the beach was much busier. If I had left it until today to propose, intimacy would have been a huge problem.
Finding a nice spot halfway down the beach, near a couple of marine iguanas floating in the shallow water as the waves engrossed them, it wasn't long until I was reliving my childhood memories and splashing through the powerful waves. There are signs around the side of the beach warning about the powerful undercurrents here. They certainly aren't lying. Venturing out with the water higher than chest-level would be asking for trouble. There's no need to if you just want to frolic in the waves.
I'm sure my girlfriend was bored after thirty minutes, but I happily jumped through, under, and over the waves for an hour before pursuing other interests. Retracing our footsteps from the previous week, there certainly seemed to be a lot less wildlife on show, and if this had been our first visit to Tortuga Bay, I wouldn't have walked away with the same high impressions. It just goes to show that two visit to the same place can lead to two completely different experiences and views.
As we walked to the other end of the beach, we branched right, instead of walking through the cactus forest again and came to a much quieter, peaceful beach, where the spit protects it from forceful, energetic waves. Being calmer and safer to swim meant the beach was crowded by local families enjoying their free Sunday afternoon. It was a little too busy for me, even with the option of kayaking and, after throwing my girlfriend under the water one time too many, we made our way back along the main beach of Tortuga Bay and back to the town of Puerto Ayora. As always, my girlfriend had the last laugh after watching her clumsy oaf of a boyfriend accidentally trip in his new $1 flip-flops at the feet of a group of surfers and some scantily clad beauties. It took a long time for the beetroot colour to subside from my cheeks, and even longer for the grazes to heal on my knees.
Being Sunday, as we arrived back into Puerto Ayora, virtually everywhere was closed, leaving few ideas of afternoon accomplishment. Luckily, stopping by Pelican Bay helped to waste an hour or so, as some rather hardworking fisherman, seemingly the only people working in the whole of Santa Cruz, were filleting their fish catch, a number of pelicans, sea lions, and manta rays waiting for any leftovers that might be thrown their way. From the size of some of the fish heads, some as big as mine, they must have had a good day's fishing. With nothing else on offer, the last afternoon on the Galapagos Islands was spent sadly, and quite pathetically, in the hotel room watching the tedious and soppy Disney movie 'Eight Below'.
As we made our way out of Puerto Aytora the following morning, the bright red glow of the sun now high in the sky, and a sight that everyone needs to capture at least once on their camera, preferably at sunrise, I knew that it was time to leave. Any more time would have meant the whole Galapagos experience losing a little of it's magic. If I could turn back time and do the whole vacation again, I would have been tempted to catch one of the daily passenger boats to the inhabited islands of San Cristobal and Isabella, especially after finding out what a waste of time the Bay and Isla Daphne Tours were. Everyone can say such things when reflecting at accomplishments, and considering eleven days earlier I arrived without initially having a plane ticket, accommodation, or any trips planned, then I think going somewhere with nothing planned can sometimes be a success.
After checking in at Baltra airport, I realised if I had indeed wanted to stay for longer in the Galapagos Islands and sell my plane ticket to a random person, it wouldn't have been a problem. At each and every security check, and even at the main check-in gate, I was never asked once for any proof of identification. I doubt I would have had to show my ticket either if I hadn't insisted. I know the Galapagos Islands might not be number one on the list of potential terrorist attacks, but you can never be too safe, and I think security here needs to be improved dramatically. Even upon entering the Galapagos, you see passengers walking straight through security checks. It's not really the thought of bombs that worries me. With the Galapagos being in such a fragile state, a single fruit could easily have the same consequences. It's moments like this that makes me pessimistic about the future of the islands. I'm very happy to have visited now. In ten years, people visiting the islands certainly won't be getting the same enjoyment and satisfaction levels that tourists today receive.
As our plane touched down in Quito just over three hours later, passing a number of Ecuador's most famous volcanoes during the flight, including Chimborazo, the furthest point from the centre of the earth, Cotopaxi, the worlds highest active volcano, Tungurahua, a volcano that spurts out ash on a daily basis, and the two Illinizas, I realised it was back to reality. The temperature, at only 17 degrees Celsius, was less than half of what the lucky inhabitants of Santa Cruz were experiencing on a daily basis and, upon boarding the bus journey to my home on the slops of Cotopaxi Volcano, the rain started. It was like the previous days had never happened. At least I have a ridiculous number of photos to remind me of those events, in what for me was a once in a lifetime journey.