After San Cristobal and Isabela, Santa Cruz was a shock to the system. We had been catapulted from a haven of a quiet anchorage and village life, to a heaving harbour and a tourist trap of a city, which brought us back to urbanity with a bump.
Check in was straightforward. We arrived on Friday afternoon and within an hour or so had on board the port captain, in smart naval whites and gleaming polished black shoes, Javier’s agent Manolo, and a third man, whose function I couldn’t quite get to grips with. Despite the fact that, by now, we had two through island check-ins, he was the first who wanted to look around the boat, under our bed and in the pasta cupboard next to the washing machine. He looked a bit embarrassed about it “just a formality”. When I asked him outright what his function was, which Ministry (Environment, Immigration…) he mumbled something about being part of the security detail for the capitaneria, though I later heard whispers that Ecuador had sent over 20 agents from their drugs squad. Quién sabe?!
Formalities done, the captain relaxed while waiting for the boat taxi, admiring our coconut carving of the lovebirds swaying in the cockpit. Then, just as we were confirming when we would get our fuel from Manolo, we were astonished to hear there was none. At least for our agent Javier and his clients. Again, from whispers we could gather, the whole system is corrupt and, Javier had refused to pay the requisite backhander on principle. Clients with other agents were fine. Hopefully it would come in next week, but such an assurance was little comfort when the group plan was to leave Monday or Tuesday. In such a crisis Cubans talk about getting round things informally by “resolver”, a word that sprung to mind as our situation was “resolved” albeit above board in the end, by a general conflab with the other boats and a number of phonecalls. But at the time of going ashore to Santa Cruz, we didn’t yet know that, and our black mood coloured our first impressions.
Santa Cruz is the most populated island in Galapagos. The main street or malecón is littered with tourist shops that the girls and I explored a little while Xavier and Francis got some cash out. The first we went into had a bookshelf af least, in front of the “I love boobies” rack of tshirts, where a book from the Twilight saga sat beside Fifty Shades of Grey. In English. Next! Actually the next shop was in a different league. It had an informative card of Galapagos fish, books in Spanish, including a bilingual Ecuadorean cookbook, some beautifully painted bowls, and a bespectacled owner that didn’t seem at all worried whether we were browsing or buying. Without the gnome of Zurich there it was the former, but I made a mental note we would go back there, and when we finally did, it saved the day in more ways than one. Going off the main street it was a typical shabby connurbation. I couldn’t get my head round the lack of natural spaces within walking distance and felt claustraphobic. We decided there and then we couldn’t wait to leg it from this island ASAP before it sullied the memory of the previous two. Still, before going back to the boat we needed some supper and went to “The Galapagos Deli” on TripAdvisors recommendation. It was a bistro, delicious juices and smoothies, pizzas were fine, and the fresh fish and chips hit the spot. More than that though, the waitresses were just so warm and friendly that we were smiling again in no time. Slowly we were able to scrape off those first impressions and discover the gem of an island that lay gleaming beneath.
The photo above was taken on an afternoon when boat families got together to celebrate the birthdays of RAFTKIN’s Hayley (12), and Taj (5), from SHAWNIGAN (afamilyafloat.com). Conveniently, just at the end of the pontoon coming in, there was a playground, and so Mums Tracy and Josie were able to set up a table for a real feast of cakes, watermelon, crisps and all sorts. In addition to the boats we already knew from the ARC Atlantic Rally, RAFTKIN, PELIZENO, BAJKA (sailing-bajka.ch), there were PELIZENO's friends, wonderful retired couple Gail and Brian on DOL’SELENE and friends of SHAWNIGAN’s, also heading to the Marquesas, Norwegian family boats C’EST SI BON and KEA, travelling together, and Russian boat LADY MARY who is going via Easter Island and the Pitcairns. It was quite something to see 17 boat kids altogether and celebrate on a wonderful afternoon.