Anybody who has been following my Instagram (@tomsylva13) or my Facebook feed will have noticed that I have recently been lucky enough to spend a few days truly finding out what it means to have the skin of a Scandinavian as I have slowly cooked in the equator strong burning sun of the Galapagos. I hesitantly included this as part of my itinerary in Ecuador due to some well informed warnings about the price, but figured a break from slagging off reggaeton and learning how to select a sturdy guacamole bearing Dorito was overdue. A fair few people have been asking me about this incredible place so here are a few tips from yours truly that I believe like minded people wishing to travel here may actually find helpful;
1 – Take sunscreen. Preferably three bottles of waterproof factor 50, and reapply every thirty two seconds. Put it under the rim of your swimming costume. Put it on your feet. Put it behind your ears. No stretch of exposed skin is safe, and trust me, it will get you and make you look like a dumb uncultured tourist in the process. I cannot wait for the peeling…
2 – Take money. Don’t be fooled by the diminished prices of much of South America, the Galapagos is a playground for the rich and the brains behind the tourism industry have figured this out. This is not a place for a poor backpacker, it’s a place for a short break after six months of working your little ass of. Be prepared for migration and national park fees ($120), increased accommodation and food prices, expensive boat trips and ATM processing fees. That said, I grabbed a bottle of local craft beer in the fanciest restaurant on San Cristóbal for $3.50 just before sunset, so there are a few pleasant surprises.
On a side note, there are several ways to potentially save money. Firstly, eat local (almuerzos), but you do run the risk of catching something unsavoury (please submit all poop stories directly to Indie Road) especially as there is a lack of local freshwater so everything is imported and therefore has a higher chance of contamination. Secondly, you can try to book last minute cruises and excursions in the local travel shops once inside the national park, but counter productively, to do this effectively you would have to stay a few extra days which would probably make up the difference in the savings you make. You can explore on your own but a little local knowledge goes a long way to doing this successfully, so often it’s worth just biting the bullet, saving a little longer and ensuring you have the smoothest experience. My best tip for saving money while travelling is probably considered blaspheme on Indie Road – stop drinking. If you’re struggling to balance your finances you will be surprised just how much more you could have just by being sober. Don’t shoot me.
3 – Take appropriate clothing. It’s not all bikinis and jandals (flip flops for any non-Kiwis) here; there’s plenty of hiking around the “highlands” which have a very different climate, albeit below 1000m above sea level (which I find personally fascinating). There is always the chance of rain (although apparently not for this very lucky modest fucker) and when you’re out on the open seas there are often strong winds that will never let you warm up again after your snorkel with the reef sharks. I would recommend a windproof water resistant jacket for anything involving a boat, some long pants for the cooler evenings and of course all your usual summer clothes for allowing the sun to roast you alive.
4 – Talk to an expert, and plan your time here well. Any mistakes in your itinerary will be very expensive as time wasted here is costly and, more obviously, a waste of time. There are people out there who know every little hill and creek and can probably name every iguana and tell you its back story and future trajectory, and they will be able to listen to your desires and make them a reality in the most time reliant, cost effective way. I personally think The Galapagos is not an easy destination to travel just by turning up and presuming you will be okay, much like Fiji. I’m lucky enough to actually be travelling with one of these super humans who knows everything who had also provided an elegant solution for my fifth piece of advice.
5 – Know Spanish, at least enough to ask for directions, order a drink, know when somebody is planning to kidnap you and not look like an uneducated idiot. So I cheated here, as 90% of the time I have had the assistance of a very talented young lady who can translate all of my stupid thoughts so that the locals can understand that I don’t just look like I know nothing, I actually do know nothing. While most of the tourism industry here has adapted to the sea of Americans passing through, it always helps to know the niceties (in any country for that matter) and, if you do happen find one of those true locals who can’t speak any English, with enough hand gestures and bad grammar you might just get by. On yet another side note, if you have any desire to go to any more of Latin America, The Galapagos will seem like a breeze in comparison to everywhere else for somebody who doesn’t speak any Spanish at all. ¡Una cerveza muy grande por favor!
6 – Don’t be a cunt. And I mean this in the most polite way possible, but The Galapagos has been by far the biggest example I have seen of how humans have had such a negative impact on the environment. What people tend to forget is that WE ARE ONE OF THE INTRODUCED SPECIES IN THE ECOSYSTEM that we always bitch about fucking up the ecosystem. We are the fucking enemy. We are the only species that will cut down a tree to print paper to write “save the trees” on. We don’t need to save the planet for future generations, we need to save it for ourselves. People won’t realise it’s a problem until it starts to actually kill them. For some places it’s too late, for others there’s still hope. So don’t fucking touch the animals, don’t stand on any plants, don’t leave the walking trails, don’t litter or smoke in the national park, don’t take natural souvenirs from the beach, don’t interfere with nature, don’t vandalise the rocks, don’t contaminate any water, turn off the lights when you leave the room, read the park rules on the leaflet they give you in immigration, do not bathe in the air conditioning, use your common sense and don’t be a dick. It saddens me to think how many fossil fuels have been burned and resources used to send me around this place, to send the ingredients for my food, to power my lights, to even flush the fucking toilet and I know that there are people a thousand times worse than me. I would endure a thousand nights of people fucking in the dorm room, I would climb Mt Ngauruhoe consecutively a hundred times, I would run bollock naked through the crowded streets of New York, I would even support Australia in the rugby to stop another luxury resort being built here in the hope that we can conserve some of this little paradise for the greater good of our planet. And you can call me a hypocrite as my carbon footprint after all of these flights must be the size of a horny elephant’s throbbing cock, but I will still shout at you if I see you trying to harass a giant tortoise.
Although the Galapagos is under the strain of looming mass tourism, a quick visit is well worth it and with a little consideration, doesn’t have to be as environmentally or economically harmful as it could be. I would fully recommend getting out into the ocean to look at the wildlife using some of the local day trip companies, I would fully recommend some exploration of the diverse highlands and I would fully recommend a beer at the bar on the beach to watch the sunset. I have had a bloody fantastic time walking on white sandy beaches, laughing as sea lions chase women down the streets of San Cristóbal, eating almuerzos and not getting food poisoning and exploring this little corner of paradise. I feel there’s a certain element of wonder linked with the history of The Galapagos as I’ve always been a fan of natural selection and evolution and Darwin’s ghost still lingers around every corner, and there are multiple intepretation centres which explain in depth the history, the nature and environmental threats in the area. Even for somebody who always favours mountains over beaches, I can’t imagine anybody not liking it here.
I could waffle (mmm waffles) on about everything I did and everything I saw and by the end of it, my brother would have actually grown a beard and about twenty readers will have committed suicide. If you want specifics and more details, please don’t hesitate to comment or to personally harass me; it’s what I’m here for.
I would rate The Galapagos a pool full of giant tortoises, a large pair of resting boobies and a sea lion who has had too many cocktails at happy hour out of twenty.
– Tom @ indieroad