Touching down on the tarmac at Santa Cruz Island, it felt as though my Galapagos Islands adventure had finally begun.
The Eden Yacht and its crew were awaiting me in a nearby harbor, but first there was some paperwork that had to be taken care of in the airport.
As I waited in line to show my passport, and pay my $100 park entrance fee, additional planes arrived. Sundays, it turns out, are the busiest days of the week, with up to a half dozen planes arriving in the morning.
Once the payment was made, my carry-on bag was searched, and I was allowed to collect my larger backpack.
Walking out the back side of the airport building, I saw a local holding a sign for The Eden Yacht. It was Felipe, who'd serve as our naturalist/guide for the whole 8-day journey.
Boarding the Eden Yacht
But before we could get going, we had to wait for the rest of the boat's passengers to arrive. And that took another 45 minutes, as they were on the flight that arrived after mine. By the time we left in the shuttle bus to the harbor, everyone else had already reached their boats.
A panga (or small dinghy) was dispatched from the Eden to ferry us over. Pangas are used by all the cruise ships to take passengers back and forth between the boats and islands, as well as for snorkeling.
Everyone was excited to reach the yacht, which would serve as our home for the next 7 days and nights.
My first impressions were very positive, as I explored the yacht's main deck. The interior design was modern, their were tablecloths on the two dining room tables, a handsome bar, and even a flat screen TV in the lounge area. Once everyone and their luggage was aboard, we were shown to our rooms.
I wasn't surprised to learn I was bunking with Sebastian, a Canadian truck driver with a penchant for backpacking, however neither of us expected to be given a room on the 2nd level. Given Sebastien towered over me, I took the top bunk, which was a little narrow, but would suffice for a week.
The bathroom was small, clean, and better than I expected. In addition to a central AC system feeding the room, we had the ability to open our window and let a breeze in.
Next, we had a briefing by Felipe regarding the afternoon's itinerary. We'd have our first nature walk on nearby Bachas Beach, followed by snorkeling, but first we'd have lunch.
For the passenger's comfort I gather, all meals are served while the boat is stationary, so we ate while bobbing around in the now empty harbor. The family style dining tables were a good icebreaker, and everyone began to get to know one another.
Visiting Bachas Beach on Santa Cruz Island
After lunch, we motored over to Bachas Beach. Several other yachts were already anchored offshore, and I began to wonder if we'd have time to snorkel. It seemed like we'd been behind schedule since the airport, but I tried not to let it bother me.
We boarded the Eden Yacht's two pangas, and sped toward shore. As we got closer, a giant flock of Blue Footed Boobies could be seen. And there were people snorkeling amongst them all in the clear blue waters.
By now the sun was already fading toward the horizon, and I knew we were too short on time. I accepted that we were going to miss our first snorkel, and reminded myself there'd be many more that week.
Felipe lead us to two separate ponds where Chilean Flamingoes were busy feeding. We quickly saw our first Marine Iguanas, as well as red Sally Lightfoot Crabs, herons, and a few other types of birds.
After visiting the ponds, we arrived back at the main beach, which was now devoid of the Boobies, and snorkelers who'd returned to their yachts already. There was a sweet stillness to the beach at sunset.
I was no longer in a hurry, and could enjoy the moment.
As the light faded, the pangas were dispatched to pick us up, and we passed our first pelican on the way back to the Eden Yacht. Once on board, the captain started up the engines, but we didn't seem to go anywhere.
Then, we noticed some of the crew on the pangas next to the boat. It was already dark, so something clearly wasn't right.
The more time that passed without us moving, the more obvious it became there was a serious problem. Felipe told us we'd eat dinner first, and have our briefing for the following day afterwards (normally, the briefings happen before dinner).
We all knew that was a stall tactic. Either the crew was still trying to diagnose or fix the problem, or they needed time to figure out what to do with 16 paying passengers whose yacht just broke down on the first day of a week-long cruise.
We continued to bond over our spagetti dinner, after which we reconvened for the briefing.
Felipe, who looked young for his position as Galapagos nature guide, broke the news as we all held “welcome” cocktails.
The boat suffered a mechanical failure. And it wasn't something that could be fixed immediately.
He informed us that other 1st Class yachts were being contacted to see if they could take us.
The first boat offered up space for three of us — an old Italian couple, and Maya, an Israeli backpacker. Only Maya would need to bunk with a man, which was not the normal protocol when pairing up single travelers on Galapagos cruises.
As they got their stuff together to be transferred, fear of the unknown set in with the rest of us.
Would they find another, comparable yacht for us?
Would the new yacht have a similar, if not the same, itinerary as the Eden?
Many of us had chosen the Eden specifically for its itinerary, which included far-flung Genovesa Island.
Time passed, and anxiety increased, as we awaited the Eden's Sales Manager, who was due to arrive on the yacht around 9 PM'ish to further address the situation with us. Our cruise had barely begun, and we were already being forced to abandon ship.
I would've been more pissed off if it weren't for the others on the boat, many of whom maintained a steady stream of jokes to lighten the mood.
I gave them all credit for keeping their cool. Despite the high cost of a Galapagos cruise, not including the actual cost to reach Ecuador from the USA or Italy, everyone behaved maturely.
A little before 10 PM, Maya returned. Upon seeing the other boat, and her new room complete with old man sleeping in it, she refused to stay there and rejoined the rest of us.
A little after 10 PM, the Sales Manager arrived on the Eden, looking very flustered. She recapped the situation; the boat suffered a mechanical accident that could not have been predicted, and it was not a reflection of poor maintenance (earlier in the year, the Eden underwent a 3-month maintenance overhaul).
Somehow, the metal rod that connected one of the two motors to one of the two propellers, had broken.
Of course that was the bad news we already knew.
The good news was they'd come up with the best solution we all had been hoping for — transferring all of us to a new 1st Class yacht, Estrella del Mar, the following day.
The Estrella del Mar was a dive boat, and it wasn't scheduled with a tour, so it was undergoing routine maintenance.
I imagine the Eden was having to pay a pretty penny for this solution, not that we cared. But, I give them credit.
For it to work, they found an available boat of a similar class, and worked out the charter with the owner, who then had to get a captain and crew together, prepare the boat, and stock it with food within about 12 – 14 hours.
There was no way around it, we had to accept the itinerary of the new yacht. The park service requires 8 days to consider itinerary changes, even given extenuating circumstances.
We were losing a full day off our original itinerary, thereby missing Genovesa Island and the world's largest colony of Red Footed Boobies.
But there was nothing we could do, so once again, humor and patience prevailed, and we all retired for the night.